Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Skandar Keynes, Chronicles of Narnia's Lebanese-British Star, Hosts Charity Event for Marjayoun

Screening of latest 'Narnia' instalment helps athletic club in Marjayoun
By Sarah Birke
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Over 300 children descended on Furn al-Shubbak's Planete Abraj cinema on Friday afternoon, running around with tubs of popcorn in hand to see "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" and to meet 17-year-old Skandar Keynes. The British-Lebanese actor played the role of Edmund Pevensie in first installment in the Narnia series, 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," and reprised the character for the film's sequel. Adapted from the series of tales penned by C.S. Lewis, the second Narnia film sees the Pevensie children return to the magical kingdom to find hundreds of years have passed since their last visit and that Narnia is now ruled by an evil king. The children fight to restore the exiled Prince Caspian to his rightful place as ruler of the kingdom, with the guidance of the faithful lion Aslan. In Lebanon, the four Pevensie children were able to help another worthy cause - to raise both money and awareness for Marjayoun's Atallah Sports Club. The screening was organized as a charity event by Keynes' mother, Zefra Hourani, who hails from the Southern village and visits it with Keynes every summer.

Owing to its strategic location in South Lebanon, organizers explained, the Marjayoun area has felt the deleterious effects of war, occupation and emigration by local residents. Five hundred tickets to the screening were distributed to children at schools all over the region and in Beirut. With no costs for putting it on, all donations from the sponsors and audience were destined for the Atallah club."The Atallah Sports Club provides a big and important service for the local area," said Keynes, as he posed for photographs and signed autographs. "There are lots of interesting classes for local children, including Taekwondo and nunchucks. "Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Atallah Sports Club is situated between Jdeidet Marjayoun and Buwaidha. The club provides athletic facilities for children in the greater Marjayoun area which it has expanded to include a gymnasium, a studio for Taekwondo lessons, aerobics and kick-boxing, a sauna and a jacuzzi as well as showers. Most of the club's members are children between eight and 17 years old who come from the towns and villages in and near the qada of Marjayoun. The ratio of boys to girls at Atallah Sports Club is three to two. Walid Atallah, the club's founder and president, is himself a former international Taekwondo champion. Speaking at the screening, he said he hoped the event would raise awareness about the athletic facilities available for children in the Marjayoun area. He added that he wants to encourage more children to come to the club and take up a sport. Under his guidance, the club is training the next generation of Lebanese sportsmen and women. In 1999, the girl's team came in first in the Lebanese Taekwondo tournament, while the club took second in 2005 and 2006. Atallah said his mission is more ambitious than simply keeping children fit. "Sports build civilizations," he said at the screening. "They teach children to work together. "Every country needs to support sports because the small girls and boys will one day be mothers and fathers. The club can play a small part in building a better society." Atallah said that he hoped to use "every cent" of whatever money was raised - estimated at a few hundred dollars - to start new classes and add new facilities. The club is drawing up plans to build an outdoor stadium big enough to accommodate national sports tournaments.

Keynes' mother told The Daily Star that many local children were unaware of the sports club, something she hoped the screening would help change.

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