Friendly Football Raises Awareness
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
― Mother Teresa
This was a difficult post to write. We decided to launch our ‘war against eating disorders’ in Pakistan this year. The aim is to create awareness through holding special events all across the Pakistan. No city will be spared, and awareness will spread all across Pakistan. Such is thinking behind this campaign.
I teamed up with a brilliant student of Cadet College Kohat Qazi Muhammad Ali in one of the most challenging provinces of Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunawa to launch this war; little did I know how different their world is to ours.
On the evening of 14th August, Ali managed to get permission to hold a small friendly football tournament in Kohat. Aim was to get young people to play friendly football match, so people could gather together, and then educate them on Eating Disorders generally, and among athletes.
We asked the players questions on their eating habits. I thought it would be good to compare their responses with that of British Pakistani athletes in the UK we got in a Surrey; who were also playing a friendly match on the same day.
So the Eating attitude test was conducted, and the contrast was shocking.
The athletes in Surrey, who were playing Cricket, all 14 of them scored highly on irregular eating and eating unhealthy. 9 admitted to snacking between meal times and eating on the go. 8 were unhappy with their weight; they felt they were overweight. 7 of them used gyms to manage their weight.
The athletes in Kohat all ate with the family; ate organic, and there were no frequent snacking between the meals. They didn’t feel over weight nor have concerns about their body image. Out of 15, 3 said they felt they perhaps needed to gain a little bit more weight. Also here in Kohat, Western media is not omnipresent. There’s a censorship, and people are not really exposed to unrealistic photoshopped images of male and female celebrities, models etc.
The players in Kohat were all healthy to low weight, whereas the athletes in Surrey were all healthy weight to slightly overweight. The BMI among athletes in the UK was higher.
Challenges on The Day
We faced many challenges, and they were all security challenges. We had to have two security guards with guns to safeguard the event, which even until this very moment, I am still shocked, but this is very normal in this province and sadly children are no strangers to guns. If you look at the size of the event, it was a very very small scale event. The one you would hold anywhere without thinking twice, where people come together for fun. This was not the case in Kohat. We managed to educate up to 60 people in their local language on Eating Disorders.
The day was a success and a fun learning experience.
On the day, we made the people aware on following things:
What is astounding about this level of response is how we struggle to get or derive such response from Muslims living in Britain. You’ll organize a health seminar, get the trainer in, arrange for refreshment, but turnout is always low. You are literally begging people to come and listen to mental health talks.
I thought Eating Disorders affect many parts of society, so everyone needs to be aware, but now, I think perhaps certain types of Eating Disorders do discriminate and do affect certain factions of society.
One man said, I can understand anorexia, but I am confused about Bulimia and Binge Eating. We only have enough food to manage three meal times, I can’t understand how can anyone eat so much and then purge food through exercise, anaemia or diet pills.
You Can Educate People Anywhere
I really believe you can educate people anywhere; on the streets, at the sports fields, in their households. Learning and knowledge has no boundaries. There has to be a will. This event which was just a small pilot to test the waters, proved one thing; eating Disorder awareness can indeed take place in many different environments, including in most challenging provinces of Pakistan, from classroom to sports field to streets and friends and families sharing knowledge at home. It is important that this education is provided in a variety of settings to ensure that the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society are reached, and that accurate information about the illness is provided. Peer education is an excellent way of delivering eating disorders education. This is a less formal method of educating, which can be more accessible to people who are not used to a formal learning environment. At the same time, peer educators are trained on the subject, ensuring that the information they provide is accurate and reliable. This makes peer education a very effective way of reaching marginalised groups. We used the same method in Kohat Pakistan. Ali learned about Eating Disorder and then he and his friend went out on the streets to madrasahs and reached out to others. People really responded to them.
When we launched our campaign on the streets of Pakistan, the response was amazing. People with no literacy responded enthusiastically to the campaign. They said all we can do is pray for you and support you and support our children if they experience such illness.
This shows anything is possible. Tune into present moment and unleash your powers.
I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to making the event such a success.
We thank the teachers of Cadet College Kohat, who came out to support the efforts of their students, and I thank Qazi Muhammad Ali and His generous friends for holding the event and for supporting the initiative.
Now next step for us is Inshallah, to reach out to schools, workplaces, mosques and other centres.