GAZA, March 14 (Xinhua) -- In the conservative Palestinian Gaza Strip, a new basketball academy for girls was recently launched to prepare Gaza girls to perform at the highest level.
With experienced coaches, student-athletes learn how to develop their talents and skills.
The Stars Academy, located in Gaza city, cultivates elite-level student-athletes, through training specifically designed for females, including empowered female athlete courses, mental toughness and leadership training.
The academy could be a start where women's basketball can make its way into the impoverished Gaza Strip, which suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment due to an Israeli blockade since 2007 and successive Israeli military attacks.
"It is the first ever basketball academy for girls in Gaza. Through the academy, we try to integrate girls into the society and give them their independent personality to build their entities and develop their talents," Merna Ismail, one of the coaches in the academy, told Xinhua.
She added that basketball is important for the girls in many fields such as social, health and sport aspects, adding that the girls are showing a great performance during the training sessions.
Founder of the academy and a former basketball player, Ibrahim Skaik, said the academy aims to highlight the role of females in the society, in addition to developing the girls' basketball skills.
"We also hope to represent Palestine in the future in basketball tournaments. We want to make achievements through our students," he added.
Skaik said the academy also wishes to send a message that the Palestinian girl can make achievements and participate in the development of the society.
So far, more than 70 girls aged between 4 and 20 are currently enrolled in the academy.
During the training sessions, the girls exercise basketball with passion to learn the rules with ambitions to participate in tournaments at the local and international level.
For the girls, basketball is a completely new experience that taught them how to respect rules.
They found an inner balance and most of them are now more committed to their school education and more disciplined.
The basketball academy is a window of hope for many open-minded girls who loved basketball and want to master this kind of sport.
"I came here with a goal. I wanted to master basketball because I dream to be a professional player with clubs outside Gaza, if I get the chance," said Zina Ashour, a 15-year-old student, when she practiced warming-up activities.
The young girl said the academy is really distinguished and different from other places she has been trained at, expressing hope that she "can really improve her talents and become a world-class player."
Her 16-year-old colleague, Evet Turuk, said that basketball teaches her a lot.
"It is not only a sport or a game, but also teaches me how to deal with people and arrange my life and time," Turuk said as she bounced the ball during a training session.
In Gaza, which is ruled by Islamic Hamas movement, girls are mostly asked to focus more on their domestic skills and education, while sports such as swimming, football, volleyball and horse riding are widely practiced by males.
However, this phenomenon has recently started to change with more girls practicing in different kinds of sports.