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 > Little League Online > Media > Little League News Archive > 2011 > January-April > Creating Hope through Commitment, Hard Work: Kuwait Little League Charters First Challenger Division in Middle East

Creating Hope through Commitment, Hard Work: Kuwait Little League Charters First Challenger Division in Middle East

Creating Hope through Commitment, Hard Work: Kuwait Little League Charters First Challenger Division in Middle East

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If sports can be considered an international olive branch of peace, then Kuwait Little League and its Challenger Division may represent the blossoming of hope.
 
Bordering the Persian Gulf, between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait is a country not quite the size of New Jersey, yet it held the world’s attention as the battlefront for the Persian Gulf War, has one of the largest oil reserves on earth, and remains a focal point of the Middle East.

In the wake of the war’s chaos and destruction, Kuwait Little League, located in Kuwait City, has given root to recovery, community trust, and a sense of worth for more than 350 children, including those with disabilities.

“It’s such a joy to be around these children and be a part of the Little League Challenger Division,” Mariam Noor, Coordinator of the Kuwait Little League Challenger Division, said. “I’ve literally put hundreds and hundreds of hours into this, but when you see the children enjoying a whole day at the ball park, it’s a wonderful feeling.”

“We have the only Challenger Division program in the Middle East and every day we are breaking new ground here,” Mercy Boujarwah, Kuwait Little League’s Safety Officer, said. “The parents are very much involved and everyone is benefiting from the program. There is no doubt in my mind that the Challenger Division will catch on in other Middle East countries that have Little League.”

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The vision of disabled Kuwaiti children enjoying the benefits of Little League belongs to Dr. Abdulazeez Saleh Boujarwah, Kuwait District Administrator. This is the first year for the Challenger Divisions in Kuwait Little League.

Kuwait Little League was formally chartered in 1987, and has remained affiliated with the exception of the 1991 season when league operations were suspended due to the Iraqi occupation. After the country was liberated by coalition forces, Kuwait Little League was able to return children to the playing field, and throughout has maintained, and even grown, its participation numbers.
 
The vision of disabled Kuwaiti children enjoying the benefits of Little League belongs to Dr. Abdulazeez Saleh Boujarwah, Kuwait District Administrator, and Mercy’s husband. A Little League volunteer for many years, Dr. Boujarwah came up with the idea during the 2010 Little League International Congress in Lexington, Ky.

“At Congress, my husband was drawn to the Challenger program after seeing Challenger players carrying flags during the Congress’s Opening Ceremonies,” Mrs. Boujarwah, a native of Cuba, who was raised in Miami, said. “We knew it was a need in the community, but it’s been frustrating, learning as we go.

“Yes, there’s been a learning curve, but Mariam has done a fantastic job,” Mrs. Boujarwah said. “We’ve all been working on this non-stop and promoted the program through game announcements, the local newspaper, the special needs associations in Kuwait, e-mails out to the families of all Kuwait Little League players, our website and personal contacts.”

For the 2011 season, Kuwait Little League’s Challenger Division has two teams and plays games on Fridays. Each of the 18 players has been diagnosed with either Autism Spectrum Disorder or Down Syndrome.

“It only takes about 30 minutes to drive across Kuwait, so we can draw Challenger players from anywhere,” Mrs. Boujarwah said. “Many of the ‘buddies’ are players from Kuwait Little League’s Junior and Senior divisions, with other children also assisting the Challenger players during games. In fact, we have more buddies than players and the teenagers see it as a great opportunity to give back to community.

“The parents of all of the players are very happy to have this and we’ve had tremendous response from sponsors,” Mrs. Noor, whose eight-year-old son, Zane, is autistic and plays in the Challenger program, said. “We need sponsorship to run the league, and each of our teams has sponsors, including the Challenger teams.”

Baseball and softball are as foreign to Kuwaiti children as the sport of cricket is to the children in the United States.

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Kuwait Little League was formally chartered in 1987, and has remained affiliated with the exception of the 1991 season when league operations were suspended due to the Iraqi occupation. The league recently enjoyed its 2011 opening day ceremonies, which included a game featuring its two Challenger Division teams.

The indigenous people of Kuwait are predominantly Muslim. The Kuwaitis are divided into two groups - Shias and Sunnis. There are also different tribes to which the origin of the Kuwaitis can be traced, such as Dawasir, Ajman, Utaibah, Anizah, and Awazim.

Kuwaitis celebrate different types of festivals, which are an integral part of their culture. Music, art, literature and dance form an important part of Kuwaiti lifestyle. Different types of Arabic customs and practices are also observed by the Kuwait people, yet organized sport is typically not among them.

However, it should be remembered that the present population of Kuwait consists of more expatriates than native Kuwaitis. As such, Kuwait’s diverse population of more than 2.8 million has influenced the local lifestyle.

“In the early years of Kuwait Little League there were some parents, primarily expatriate women who were married to Kuwaitis, who wanted their children playing baseball,” Mrs. Boujarwah, who noted Little League in Kuwait started as sandlot baseball, said. “Now we’re up to 25 teams and have a lot more local players. Counting all the players in the league, 40 percent are native-born, hopefully giving us a steady base for years to come. Still, we are extremely international with 25 different nationalities represented in the league.”

“In October, we located to a new facility, and in six weeks put the Challenger Division together,” Mrs. Noor, a native of Toronto, Canada, said. “Our two teams are set up for league-age seven-year-olds, and 12s and 13s. This is a new concept for us and we went into this hoping we could meet all the children’s needs.”

As plans became reality, Mrs. Noor and Mrs. Boujarwah admit they leaned heavily on Sam Ranck, Little League Challenger Division Director.

“Sam has answered many e-mails on how to work things out,” Mrs. Boujarwah said. “The basic question was: ‘How do you actually do this?’ We needed concrete ideas to have practice and games. Sam has been instrumental in helping us set up and implement the Challenger Division. As the word gets around, I have no doubt we’ll add more players.”

The Kuwait Little League season opens in late October and runs through April. In recent years, the league has entered teams in the Little League International Tournament. Last season, Kuwait Little League was represented in Little League Middle East and Africa Region Tournament in Kutno, Poland. Under the leadership of League President Saud Al Ayoub, the league is working to enter its Little League Softball program into International Tournament play in the near future.
 
Describing what it means to have Little League in Kuwait, Mrs. Boujarwah said. “When our fields were taken away by war, children would write to us saying:  ‘I can’t live without baseball!’”

“We have a following of children who love being at the field and playing baseball,” Mrs. Boujarwah said. “These kids don’t grow up around baseball and they don’t see Major League Baseball games, so we bring the love of baseball to them. We consider ourselves as the poster children for international goodwill … goodwill through baseball.”

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Kuwait Little League, located in Kuwait City, has given root to recovery, community trust, and a sense of worth for more than 350 children, including those with disabilities. The Challenger Division has chartered two teams. Each of the 18 players has been diagnosed with either Autism Spectrum Disorder or Down Syndrome