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Mona Istanbouli, Physical Education Teacher

Name: Mona Istanbouli
Age: 39
Role in GAME: GAME Zone Manager
GAME Zone: Qasqas, Beirut

Mona Istanbouli comes from Beirut, lives in Beirut and works as a Physical Education teacher in a school in Beirut. She’s married and is the mother of three children. She started playing basketball when she was in school and is still playing. She joined GAME from the very beginning back in 2007 when GAME was new to the country. At that time she was a coach in Chiah GAME Zone. When the Playmaker program started in GAME (in 2013, red.) and the Playmakers picked up the coaching, Mona became a GAME Zone Manager in Qasqas, where we meet her this Thursday afternoon.

How did you start in GAME?
My friend heard about GAME but she hadn’t time to join herself. So she asked me if I had time. She told me that it was a new association in Lebanon with roots in Denmark. So I send my CV and then I started in GAME in 2007 – it’s been 10 years now.

What is your job as a Zone Manager?
Before the season start, all Zone Managers meet and start planning what we are going to do in the following year. We also try to find new players in schools and public places around the Qasqas area. During the season, we check if we have enough players, and check the number of both males and females. We also collect information about the kids. How old are they, where do they live and register how many of them are active based on their attendance. When we have trainings, the Playmakers are on the court and the Zone Managers are off the court. I support the Playmakers. It can be anything from helping them with the practice planner to getting them more basketballs. Also sometimes parents are interfering the practice – then the Playmakers come to me. Some parents want their kid to play football and not basketball. At each practice we give a medal to a child who tried hard and did better than usual. We try to shift it around and It is not always the one who scores the most points who gets the medal. So sometimes the parents ask “why did my kid not take the medal today”. Then I talk to them.

How do you use your educational background as a Zone Manager?
After I graduated I started teaching in an orphanage for children with special needs and problems at home. The children had learning disabilities and did not fit well in the public schools. They came from different backgrounds and had many problems. Some of them came from poor families and some of them had a father in jail or didn’t have parents at all. We had many cases. In the beginning they didn’t like to play sports in general and some of the boys wouldn’t play with girls. They had bad experiences with authorities so they didn’t like to be told: “do this or do that”. They didn’t want to listen to a leader. When I started with them I tried to change their mind. I wanted them to see the positive teacher, the positive female teacher. So I encouraged them, and I hugged them, and I talked to them in the breaks. We started to have a conversation, and I told them don’t be shy, don’t be tough with girls, girls are good and you are good. And I said to them “when you grow up you’ll marry and you’ll have a family, you’ll find a girl or a boy”. I tried to give them a positive spirit. And today some of these students are married and got kids and they still call me. Some of them are from Syria. Now they are grown up and they changed, really they have changed a lot. So I got experience from teaching these children with special needs. When I started in GAME, I put all my experience, and my expertise in GAME. So it’s actually not only my expertise in how to organize sports I use, it’s more like … using personal and social skills. This is what GAME does: combining the sports skills and the life skills.

What motivates you as a Zone Manager?
The team motivates me. I like the teamwork in GAME and also Bob (aka Country Director Ibrahim Hourani). He’s a good leader and he tries to give us everything that the zone needs. We are really like a family, we like this kind of teamwork, the feeling of belonging to a family.

What do you think is the best thing about GAME?
I like kids to be safe playing, feeling happy together, and sharing ideas. This is the best thing about GAME. Sports can do many good things for the children. Take their minds off the war, prevent them from fighting each other and from criminality. Sport can take them off the streets and on to the courts.

You have a fulltime job and three children. How do you also find time to be a Zone Manager?
I have to. Because I’m used to be in GAME, it’s not one or two years, it’s 10 years. I like to play with kids and like to see them being happy when they play. And especially the poor kids who don’t have the opportunity to play in a club. I feel happy when they feel happy.