Blog entry | 23-08-2021 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Jan van Heuvel establishes sports clubs in refugee camps with his humanitarian sports brand KLABU in Amsterdam. KLABU means “club” in Swahili and is run by the local community. The first project has now been launched in Kenya. In cooperation with the football club Paris Saint-Germain, work is now underway to establish a sports club in Bangladesh. The ambition is to get 500,000 refugees from all over the world to participate in sports and games within ten years. There are people with physical disabilities who like to come play chess or talk to each other. This is not a given in such a camp.
The idea arose when Jan worked as an intern with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bodopuram refugee camp, Ghana. During the training period, I saw how many young people there are and how few opportunities there are in the refugee camp. At the same time, there was a lot of talent and potential present.
KLABU focuses on the basics needed for the sport. According to Jan, there are many organizations that have programs in operation. This program is called. But what is often lacking are the sports essentials, and equipment, such as soccer balls, shoes and long-sleeved sportswear for Muslim girls. KLABU has come up with a solution to this: a community-run sports library.
A club with its own name and identity will be built around it, where people will come together. Its core is the sports library, but people can also go to it to get electricity and wifi, watch sports on TV and more recently for music and dance.
The sports offered are based on local popularity. “We are adapting to demand,” says Jan. In Kenya, for example, there was a demand among girls to practice yoga. There is now a person in the camp from Uganda who will give yoga lessons. “We don’t want to commit ourselves to a sport, but look at what is needed and what we can make a difference with.”
Many different nationalities can often be found in such a camp. According to Jan, these are the people who don’t necessarily want to be camping together. Through sports they get to know each other and friendships are formed. Simple distraction is in high demand, but there are few possibilities for it. You live there in some kind of no-man’s land where she is not allowed to work. Then you fall quickly, especially when you’re young, into things you don’t want to be involved in. Exercising breaks this negativity.” “There was a boy who said to me, ‘If I train, I’m kind and tired afterward and less interested in thinking about all the hard things in life.'”
The club that KLABU is building is more than just a sport. It is also a rare and positive place in a refugee camp that brings people together. There are people with physical disabilities who like to come play chess or talk to each other. So KLABU creates a lot of joy in the community, regardless of the sport. This is not something that is taken for granted in such a camp, where few initiatives go beyond what is necessary for survival.
In Kenya, the majority of the population is under 18 years old. Approximately 40,000 people live in that camp. You see children all around you. KLABU mainly focus on boys and girls up to 25 years old. According to Jan, in some countries getting girls involved is still a challenge. This is why we measure desires that exist and how we can respond to them.
The first project was launched in Kalobeyi. It is located in northern Kenya, near the borders of Uganda and South Sudan. Now, KLABU, in cooperation with football club Paris Saint-Germain, UNHCR and the Bangladesh Friendship NGO, will go to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, the largest refugee camp in the world.
In addition, KLABU is now creating a project with the Dutch movement on land in Lesbos, Greece. The ambition is to create another 30 clubs around the world in the next 10 years, first in refugee camps and then wherever sport can contribute to a better future, such as in slums. KLABU also has a sports program for refugees and immigrants who are not registered in the Netherlands.
With KLABU, Jan tries to do and buy as locally as possible. They also get great care. We work closely with the United Nations and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They open the doors of the refugee camp for us. What is special is that we work directly with the refugees in the camp. They are also in charge of the club, it’s their KLABU.
KLABU supports this financially, but also helps them create their own business model. This way they will eventually become independent, run their own community and make their own income. That’s what makes it special: They do it themselves. We help.
Jean soon realized that as a foundation he would rely on donations. In order to become more independent, it was necessary to have its own turnover. He saw in it an opportunity to design sportswear that makes a difference first and foremost in refugee camps, but can also be sold to the rest of the world. “We are a foundation that implements projects in the camps, but we also have a social enterprise that makes sportswear. 50% of the profits go to the foundation and the other 50% is invested in business development in order to increase the impact.
This will enable KLABU to become completely independent of donations in the long term. For now, sponsors and donors are still essential, such as Paris Saint-Germain Football Club and other supporters including Wild Janzen, Rabo Foundation and Don Foundation. Apparel sales revenue helps maintain clubs. Our brand depends on it: because you buy something from us, refugees can play sports in our clubs.