“This is what we need for humanity: for refugees to feel alive.”

Building sport clubs where refugees are rebuilding their lives – the young and ambitious social start-up KLABU makes it possible. Besides that, they do so much more for those who fled their country. Sam Ahmad has been working for KLABU since 2019. After he met founder Jan van Hövell, Sam immediately knew this was the best place to really make a difference. Having fled from Syria himself, Sam believes that this is exactly what we need for humanity: for refugees to feel alive. Sam shares the story of KLABU with us.


What exactly does KLABU do?

Over 100 million people worldwide are forced to flee their home today, due to war, religion, climate or any other dangerous situation in their home country. They end up in cities, settlements or refugee camps all over the world. The average time people spend in a refugee camp is 17 years, almost 2 generations. NGO’s like UNHCR really help, but all in the survival mode. People in the camps, mostly under 18, have nothing to do all day,  and feel a great amount of anxiety.

So we thought, what’s the best way to bring light to these young people? We needed to improve their lives and their situation. The answer was sports. Sports is something everyone can do, no matter where you’re from or what you believe in. Practicing a sport means so much more than just moving physically. Healthy body, healthy mind: it’s all connected. So it also helps people survive mentally. Besides that, it shows what talents you have and it brings people together through which they really connect. It makes them part of a club, a community.



In which parts of the world is KLABU active?

Our first project in 2019 was in Kenya, over 40,000 brothers and sisters who fled their country were living there. KLABU actually means club in Swahili. We set up a clubhouse where people can come for internet, for tools they need, and we make sure everyone can join our activities. There is a solar system which provides for electricity – making it possible to use WiFi, watch television and listen to music. The clubhouse we use is a place to come together, to celebrate, to use as a living room.

Last week, we opened another clubhouse in Lesvos, called Lesvos Spirit. The third one we built is in Bangladesh, a camp where 1 million people are staying. We realized this together with Paris Saint German. They reached out to us, admired what we were doing and wanted to be part of it. We launched the clubhouse in Bangladesh, our biggest so far, two months ago. In Latin America, we’re starting to set up a clubhouse in Brazil, focusing on refugees from Venezuela.

The clubhouses are run by the local community. For example, in Kenya, there are 10 real jobs with a salary which makes it possible for the locals to run the clubhouse by themselves. Also in Bangladesh and Lesvos the community in in the lead as much as possible. We communicate over Whatsapp, Zoom, and a special KLABU app for impact measurement.  Close to home, here in Amsterdam, we recently opened the KLABU store which we are turning into a store + clubhouse located at Haarlemmerdijk 106. We’re also builing a clubhouse at Ter Apel. This way, especially the younger generations have a goal each day. We recently won an award for that (Nederlandse Loterij in Beweging 2022) of which we’re very proud.



Besides Lesvos Spirit, we also have Amsterdam Spirit.  We gather once a week on Tuesday at 17.30u – we work out together and do all kinds of sports. Anyone can join – refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented migrants and locals.  This way we all integrate and make sure no one is alone.

What is KLABU’s mission?

In the next ten years we aim to build 50 more clubhouses. In the future, we also want to focus on other areas where access to sports is needed, for example in slums. Having been there in Brazil last year, we realized the situation is really bad. To make all of this happen, we need funding. We thought it was a good idea to design our own shirts with the KLABU logo. People can buy different shirts, sweaters and shorts, and wear it like a badge of honor. In return, we use the profit to build more clubhouses – 50% goes to the projects, and the other 50% is reinvested to grow the brand’s business and impact. Besides the profit, people in the camps feel proud when they see the KLABU clothes are worn all over the world. It gives provides them an identity, beyond just being a refugee. Many famous athletes are wearing our clothes as well. Robin Haase wears our logo during his tennis games, raising a lot of awareness for what we do. Even FIFA added our KLABU shirts to their playstation game ’21-’22. When the kids in the camps see their own shirts, being able to put it on Messi or Ronaldo, they become incredibly happy. It gives them hope and recognition.



What are you most proud of?

Personally, I’m proud of how far I have come. The last five years have been quiet chaotic but I made it. I finished a Pre-Master in Health in the Society at Universiteit Utrecht and I learned Dutch. I even have a Dutch passport now, so I’m officially a Dutch citizen. Fortunately, I’m in a better place right now, I have a good life. I’m proud to be able to help people who need it. It’s so important to not be selfish, we always need to think about the others. In the world today, we need to show people how to add values, how to make change. I believe that’s why KLABU is a success, it speaks from the heart – and when you speak from the heart, you will be heard.

Shared by Meanwhile/Anneloes van Vliet
1st 2 pictures are taken by Coco Olakunle, other pictures KLABU
December 2022