New soccer field brings hope to poor Beersheba district

Arsenal project aims to help kids escape the stereotype that proceeds Neighborhood Daled.

Beersheba soccer field  (photo credit: Adam Van Hart )
Beersheba soccer field
(photo credit: Adam Van Hart )
Beersheba, to put it bluntly, does not have a good reputation. "I was reading a travel guide and it said 'There is no denying, Beersheba is a hot and ugly town,'" Daniel Zwi, an 18-year old volunteer from Australia told The Jerusalem Post. Neighborhood Daled is one of the tougher and poorer parts of the city, with cramped housing and cracked alleyways making up a large part of the neighborhood. However there is a new attraction that stands in contrast to the usual fare. Standing on top of what was once an unused dirt lot, in between the rusty apartment buildings is a beautiful mini-soccer field. Its green artificial turf and bright red Arsenal logo are the shinning symbols of a renewal program in the neighborhood. "Many [people] told me this neighborhood has been in poor condition for tens of years and there is nothing you can do about it," Dan Hart, the CEO of Tnufa for a Strong Israel, told a crowd at the opening of the Arsenal soccer field in Beersheba on Thursday. Coming three years after Hart started dreaming up renewal programs for the neighborhood, the field is a part of a highly ambitious project that is bringing in London's Arsenal soccer club, numerous volunteers from overseas and local leaders to help kids escape the stereotype that proceeds the neighborhood. "Today is a day when a dream becomes a reality," Hart told the crowd. The opening brought to Beersheba dignitaries like British Ambassador Tom Phillips and the Arsenal Manager for Soccer Schools and Supporting the Community, Alan Sefton, to stand along side Dan Hart and the Mayor of Beersheba, Yaakov Terner. The dignitaries could not hold back their enthusiasm about the project. Phillips was excited about the ties the field would create between Israel and the U.K saying football was the true "international language." "We are going to build between 6 and 9 football places like this on the west side of the city," Terner told The Jerusalem Post. "It must uplift the area," Sefton said. Arsenal, which has several other projects in Israel, is contributing not just its name and logo, but a training program for gap year students who have volunteered to be soccer coaches for kids in the neighborhood. The volunteers, who are living in neighborhood Daled, share in the high hopes for the field. "It's going to be better, and kids will take it more seriously," Adam Bortz, an 18 year-old volunteer said of the field and program. When the volunteers first arrived, they were teaching at the schools on concrete fields and the kids were a little standoffish, but eventually got used to them. "The fact that we were from Arsenal helped, they thought we played for them," Zwi said. He described the scene in the neighborhood when they arrived with some kids wondering around the neighborhood aimlessly. But he has seen a marked improvement in their behavior. "There are a couple of kids who were tough but now are productive," Zwi said. It is not always wonderful teaching the kids. Zwi admitted that some days he asks himself if he is doing any good, but is rejuvenated when he sees kids improving their skills through hard work. "People in the neighborhood are very welcoming," Zwi said; the volunteers are never without a place to go on Friday night. "The pitch gives the kids hope that something will change here, I didn't believe," Meirav Sarusie, a 17 year-old resident said. Sarusie also noted that the field is giving the kids responsibilities that they are taking on. And that is exactly one of the goals of the program and the field, getting people in the neighborhood to take on more responsibility. "The most important achievement is the local leadership, who are dedicated to take the future into their hands," Hart said.