Allesandro Lallai used to play professional football, and when he came to Gaza, kids would run up to him yelling the names of famous Italian players. So he decided to start a team: at five every evening he coached kids in a sandy field next to a bombed-out building. He lived on the 11th floor of our building, and since there’s rarely electricity, every day before practice the kids would run up eleven flights to bang on his door and yell, ‘Allesandro, let’s go!’
After a month, as a treat, we bought them uniforms and shoes and convinced a sports center to let us use their space one Friday. The kids loved playing in a proper facility; afterward, when they went back to playing in sand, many refused to wear their new shoes because they wanted to save them for special occasions.
The day before Allesandro left, one boy’s father came and told him, “I think you should know, your team has kids from all the different parties here. Normally if I saw my kids talking to a child whose family supported a different party, I’d tell them to stop. But since they were playing football, I couldn’t object. Now I’m starting to speak to their parents because I know our children are friendly. To you it might seem like just a game, but you’re making an enormous difference here, and I hope you continue.”
Allesandro’s dream now is to find a way to return and open a sports center for kids. The only rule will be no talking politics: we have to focus on the things that bring us together, not those that divide us.