Smiles and stories as volunteers take to the field

  • 5,000 volunteers from 92 countries will assist at the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021™

  • A group of them joined Qatar players for a training session at the Aspire complex

  • Three volunteers shared moving tales of what motivated them to sign up

On the face of it, a Zimbabwean mother of three, a Canadian university professor and a young Pakistani quality control supervisor would seem to have little in common.

But as Rufaro Chindalo, Ridha Ben Rejeb and Ali Shan stood smiling, side by side on the lush green turf of Qatar’s gleaming Aspire training complex, this diverse trio spoke of themselves – and each other – belonging to one big, happy family.

That family is a 5,000-strong band of FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021™ volunteers, and on Sunday 45 of its members were given the opportunity to train and have fun with five players from Qatar’s national team.

“This event is all about giving the volunteers motivation as they prepare for the tournament,” explained Nasser Al-Mogaiseeb, the Supreme Committee’s Volunteer Strategy Manager, who implements the programme in partnership with the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 LLC (Q22) and FIFA. “Today is all about volunteering, but it’s also allowing the volunteers themselves to get excited, have fun and maybe gain some new football skills.”

The players, all members of the Qatar squad going for glory at the first edition of the FIFA Arab Cup, which kicks off on Tuesday, were enthusiastic participants in the event. Meshaal Barsham, himself a graduate of the Aspire Academy – “I grew up here” he said, beaming – spoke of basking in the evident enjoyment of the volunteers. “It’s great to see them so happy – it makes me happy too – and that’s what it’s all about,” he reflected. “This is football for me.”

Inspiring tales

But this was a day on which the players ceded centre stage to the volunteers, and what emerged later were fascinating stories of why these men and women signed up – and what they have already gained from the experience.

Rufaro, for example, came to Qatar from Zimbabwe three years ago to accompany her father for life-saving cancer treatment. “I had to leave my sons behind,” she said. “Being here without them, and seeing my father unwell and needing to go through several operations, I ended up feeling quite depressed.

“As soon as I became a volunteer though, that depression just lifted away. I felt like I had another family here in Qatar. I made friends from so many different countries and it gave me a lot more confidence in myself. I feel like a caterpillar who turned into a butterfly! (laughs).

“I feel too that I have been giving back something to Qatar, and I really wanted to do that because I was so grateful for the fantastic treatment my father received here.”

FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021 volunteer programme in numbers

  • 36,167 completed applications

  • 5,000 volunteers selected

  • 1,100 female volunteers

  • 250 international volunteers

  • 92 different countries represented

DOHA, QATAR- NOVEMBER 28: Qatar National Team Volunteer Coaching Session at Aspire training facilities on November 28, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/FIFA)

This sense of repaying a debt of gratitude was a recurring theme, with Ridha echoing the comments of his friend and fellow volunteer. “I see it as a way of paying back the community,” he said. “Qatar is still developing, but these tournaments will build confidence in its people. I’m really grateful to FIFA for bringing the World Cup here because I think it’s important not just to have these big tournaments in big, developed countries.

“I want to contribute and, as a professor at Qatar University, I also want to set an example for my students. I’ve worked hard to engage them about developing their social skills and volunteering is such a great way to do that.”

Refugees and a reunion

Ali, too, saw wider implications to putting his name forward. “For me, it’s about bringing change to society and improving other people’s lives, and I feel I’m contributing in my own little way.

“I spent two months at the Generation Amazing programme at the Al Baqa'a refugee camp, for example, working in the nursery room. We put on lots of great activities for the kids like Zumba, painting, reading, basketball – and football, of course! It felt like good and important work because these kids have come from very tough, dangerous conditions.”

Rufaro was involved in the same programme, acting as a counsellor to the women and children in the camp. “I hope I helped in some way,” she reflected. “But with everything in volunteering I honestly feel that whatever I give, I get a lot more back in return.”

Yet the greatest gift of all for this particular volunteer will, as she explained, arrive just ahead of the FIFA Arab Cup kicking off.

“My eldest son has signed up to be an international volunteer and he is due to arrive tomorrow,” she explained with a grin. “Because of the pandemic and everything else that has been happening, I will be seeing him for the first time in three years.

“I must thank Qatar too because they are welcoming him as they welcomed me. I love this country – I feel like it’s my second home. And when I look at the group of volunteers here, there are lots of different cultures but it’s true: we really are all one big, happy family.”

DOHA, QATAR- NOVEMBER 28: Qatar National Team Volunteer Coaching Session at Aspire training facilities on November 28, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/FIFA)