Rise Above with Ghina Chehwan
Ghina Chehwan is an IOC Young Leader from Lebanon who's uniting her passion for sport with a passion for writing. She recently published a children book, entitled "Rise Above", which tells the stories of refugees in sport.
Ghina, what inspired you to write the "Rise Above" book?
When I was a kid, my parents made me read a book per week. Growing up, I picked up that habit that grew up with me. For me, books are an escape, I get lost between the pages and it is a kind of safe haven for me. Being Lebanese, I see many fellow citizens struggling because of our situation. We’ve also welcomed many refugees over the years, and they don’t have it easy either. It’s always tough leaving your home country and loved ones behind, so I thought if I could bring a bit of peace and consolation and send a message of hope through this book to those who need it the most, then why not? We all need inspiration and we all need someone to remind us that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and I wanted this book to be someone’s light; someone’s reason to have hope and dream big.
What is the main message or the most important lesson your book is trying to tell?
The main message of this book is that dreams are still allowed. Irrespective of our backgrounds, struggles and circumstances, we can always dream; we can always have hope. And no one can take our dreams from us. Hope and dreams are the reason we keep going, even when the cards are stacked against us. Without them, we can not be. If we have our dreams, we always have something to look forward to, and something to hold on to. I want people to know that no matter what they’re going through, they can get through it with the right mindset and determination. I want them to know that tough situations don’t last and they are only here to make us tougher individuals, just as long as we don’t give up.
Why did you decide to do a children's book? Why children as your main audience?
Children were my main audience because they don’t put limits to their imagination. They always dream big and dare to follow their dreams. They are such pure-hearted and genuine human beings that always have an open mind to learn. Besides, if we want a change to happen, we have to raise awareness at the very bottom of the pyramid. It is way easier to instill the values of inclusion in young people than it is to do so in adults who already have their beliefs and principles. Young generations are the future of nations, if we teach them well from a young age, chances are they’ll grow up with the correct beliefs and values.
Have you met, or do you personally know, refugees who rose back to life with a help of sport?
I’ve had the chance to “virtually” meet Parfait and Farid, two of the characters whose story I tell in the book. Apart from refugees, I personally know many athletes who struggle on a daily basis to reach their goals and fulfill their full potential. For example, Lebanese athletes who have had their entire training facilities destroyed by the blast, (for those who don’t know, on the 4th of August 2020, my capital city Beirut witnessed the 3rd biggest non-nuclear explosion that killed hundreds and displaced or injured thousands and ravaged the entire city) or athletes who don’t have enough funds. Truth be told, many athletes around me are struggling, and it seems as though sports is the answer to their problems. It’s where they can finally breathe and be who they really want to be. What I see when I look at those inspiring athletes around me is people who refuse to give up. I see a fire in their eyes that life is so bent on extinguishing but in vain. I see that the whole word is on pause when they’re doing what they do best: practicing their sport. They’re in their safe bubble when they’re doing sport, it’s like nothing can get to them, and that alone is enough to help them keep going despite the madness around them. When I look around me and see so many athletes thriving despite their circumstances (be it refugees or local athletes) it makes me believe in the power of sports not only to drive change, but to also heal the brokenness.
What is your sport background?
I started sport when I was 9. My parents enrolled me in a gymnastics class and I instantly fell in love. I went on to compete and win several local titles. I then started coaching and judging gymnastics. I also played first division futsal and football, and earned my black belt in taekwondo. Currently, I am a parkour and freerunning athlete. To say that sport changed my life would be an understatement. I honestly wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for sport. I have learned my biggest life lessons playing sports. Be it resilience, determination or patience, I have learned all of that from falling and failing and getting back up and starting again. Through sport, I have learned that in life, we are rarely (if ever) handed what we want on a golden plate. We have to work hard and fail more times than we can count if we want to succeed, and all of that is part of the process – we have to trust the process. Practicing sport is a humbling experience, it teaches us that there is no shortcuts to success, and only those willing to put in the work, will succeed – no secrets, not shortcuts. As simple as that. Sport is a life lesson: it is a constant journey of learning, growing and evolving, until we become the best versions of ourselves.
Why do you think sport is such an excellent tool for inclusion and empowerment, especially of girls?
As I said before, sport teaches life lessons that we can implement in day-to-day life. The skills we learn through sports are skills that stay with us for life. Besides, sport is a universal language that we all know and understand. For girls, sport can help breaking down societal stereotypes. It can make the voices of women heard and can remove gender barriers and discrimination. Apart from building physical skills, sport can help everyone, especially girls, develop analytical and leadership skills. It is a great tool for social inclusion, empowerment and gender equality. May sport empower women and men, for a sustainable future; a future brighter than the one we are headed towards.
Where, and can we already buy the book?
The book is already available for purchase. To buy it people can get in touch with me through my Instagram account (ghina.chehwan) or my writing account (falling.for.words)
PS: anyone can reach out for any other inquiry!
Follow Ghina on Instagram: @ghina.chehwan
Ghina's writing account: @falling.for.words
The book was illustrated by Krystel Saneh
Photographer of the last picture: Nabih Achkar