Hope – How A Team of Refugees Became World Champions

Sometimes the greatest sources of inspiration come about through the unlikeliest of places. This is one such story, brought to the world by a handful of teenagers determined to let their light shine.

Although the lives of refugees are commonly shaped by difficulty, the true story of a refugee is one of determination, grit, and hope. It is with these tools that a team of refugees rose to the top as the underdog champions of the 2019 FIRST Global Challenge robotic olympics in Dubai.

Comprising a team fittingly called Team Hope, these five teenage refugees know first-hand what it means to persevere. As Syrians, they witnessed the deaths of countless family members and friends. They saw the destruction of their neighborhoods and livelihoods. And when their families made the decision to seek asylum in Lebanon, it meant leaving behind everything they had in search of safety in a foreign land. It meant starting life anew. And yet, they didn’t give up hope. There’s always hope.

“Asylum may be a source of great difficulty, but our ambitions, goals, and dreams are greater,” said student Amina Kabbour.

When the team signed on to participate in the 2019 FIRST Global Challenge, they knew that it would be a challenging task. Competing with students from 188 countries, many of the teams had more experience and resources than they did. However, this was an opportunity for them to demonstrate their ability to succeed despite the challenges they faced — the same ability that the other 70 million refugees in the world also have.

“We may have lost our homeland, but we haven’t lost our minds or our potential,” said the team in their biography.

In the months leading up to, and over the course of the three competition days, the team worked hard on and off the field to prove just that.

They not only developed their robot, but also developed friendships with students from around the world. It was not an uncommon sight to see other teams join Team Hope in their pit area throughout the event, singing or high-fiving in between game matches. The refugee team was one that had everyone’s support.

And before they knew it, they found themselves on an alliance with three other teams for the playoffs.

“I am so honored that someone who has no country, who has no citizenship, is able to participate in something like this and reach the final round,” said student Maher El Assawi upon finding they had made it to the playoffs.

In a true nail-biting finale, Team Hope competed alongside Team Belarus, Team Moldova, and Team Norway to make the top score in the last match of the playoffs, edging out the other alliance by 23 points in the last 15 seconds. They won gold.

As the results were announced, all of the alliance’s members couldn’t help but jump to embrace one another as the crowd erupted in cheers.

They had made it. They had gone from war and asylum all the way to the first place podium on the awards stage in the “City of Gold.” Their success is a true testament to what hope and opportunity can ignite, regardless of circumstance or perceived ability.

“We are the winners. We are the number one champions of the world in this competition,” said team mentor Yamen Najjar. “We are the voice of every refugee around the world. They are capable people. They can do anything, like we do.”

Understanding the importance of education as a tool for opportunity, all of the team’s members are determined to pass along their skills and experience to help other young refugees reach their full potential as well.

“If you decide to be successful, there is nothing that can stop you, even if you are called a refugee. Our small group shattered the stereotypes of the word ‘refugees’ and served as a tribute to Syrian youth, showing the great influence of motivation and perseverance in achieving success and overcoming all obstacles.”

Feeling inspired? You can help nurture more of these opportunities for youth around the globe by making a small contribution to support the work we do.