Abu Dhabi: As an eight-year-old, Dunja Imran Al Sous fell in love with tennis. But little did she realise then that, for children growing up in Ramallah, Palestine, playing sport professionally would remain a distant dream in most cases.
Fast forward 11 years to the present day, now 19 and in Abu Dhabi to do an internship, the Palestinian is pursuing her education at Michigan Tech University (MTU) while continuing to play tennis.
Her single-minded devotion to the game has taken her to places such as Switzerland, Spain and the United States.
There are no top tennis players or clubs in her homeland, so Dunja can easily be named the country’s leading tennis player.
Now her big dream is for more sporting facilities to emerge in her homeland.
Even basic facilities would suffice, she says, provisions which are readily available for children in most other countries.
Dunja recalls how she used to show her ID card to armed guards at checkpoints to cross into Israel to play the game she loved. “It used to be so frightening,” she recalls, “and sometimes the gates used to be closed for two weeks and we used to be stuck on the other side.
“My first support came from home, then there were a few organisations like the Freddie Krivine Foundation which helped me with my tennis, and even now I have come here on this internship thanks to the sponsorship of a few Palestinians here,” she said.
“My mother Ursula is a Swiss national and met my father Adel Imran Al Sous at the hotel at which they were working. My father was a swimming and fitness instructor and my mum was a cook at the hotel. Ever since, my mum has always lived with us and they have always supported my tennis.”
She went on: “My mum’s brother helped me when I went to Switzerland to study, but I soon moved to the Bruguera Academy in Barcelona, before studying in California for a while and then finally joining MTU on a scholarship to continue my tennis.”
The teenager, who also used to do ballet dancing when she was a youngster, has been offered a few modelling assignments, but for the time-being she just wants to concentrate on her studies and tennis.
“I was fortunate to get the chance to travel and see what the outside world is like. I just could not believe how simple it was for kids outside Palestine to play and enjoy themselves, whereas for us it used to be a nightmarish experience day in and day out.”
“When I finish my studies and get a job, I seriously want to help by providing some basic tennis facilities in my country. When I used to carry a tennis racquet as a young kid, some of the other kids used to think it was a guitar! Apart from street tennis, there is hardly any organised sport for the children back home,” said Dunja.