Mifalot teaches coaches how to use soccer for social inclusion. Photo: courtesy

Children with special needs are often sidelined in life, and especially in sports. The Israeli nonprofit Mifalot: Sport for Education, Development and Peace trains football (soccer) coaches in Israel — and in developing countries, too — how this very popular sport can be a tool to enhance social inclusion and other values.

Mifalot’s “Game of Life” program uses sports to promote self-confidence, trust and mutual engagement, and football in particular as a therapeutic mode of education for youth with physical and mental disabilities.

“We put an emphasis on tolerance, on getting to know the ‘other.’ A kid with physical disabilities can be seen as weird or scary but once you play together you see it doesn’t matter,” says Keren Lavi, international development manager of Mifalot.

Since 2007, Mifalot has trained coaches in 15 countries, such as Colombia, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Cameroon, Liberia, Ghana and the Philippines. In 2016 it partnered with MASHAV, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Agency for Development Cooperation.

“This is a program that’s trying to change mindsets about people with special needs, teaching that they can be useful in society. That’s a new idea in many countries,” says Adam Levene from MASHAV’s department of policy and international relations. “We’ve done three training sessions with Mifalot and are looking to do 10 more in the near future.”

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