By Thomas Feth
We are delighted to present these stories, but please appreciate that some names may have been changed at the request of parents, teachers, or the kids themselves.
On the last Free Footie day of 2017, a final tournament was hosted at Belmont School which featured an array of school teams from Edmonton’s inner city. By watching just a few of the matches, it becomes clear that the diversity of the players is one of Free Footie’s most celebrated features. As one coach put it, “it’s amazing to see the diversity of all the kids. This is the future of our city here today and it’s incredible.”
One of the main groups which contributes to this diversity are newcomers to Canada, two of whom being Samer and Muhammad, who both came from Syria in 2016. Between November 2015 and February 2016, 25,000 Syrian refugees were admitted and resettled in Canada. Two of these refugees were Samer and Muhammad, who both arrived in February with their families. Before coming to Canada, Samer and his family crossed the Syrian border to Lebanon and lived in an airport for a while, while Muhammad and his family journeyed from Syria to Egypt through Jordan before being admitted into Canada.
“They’ve both seen a lot and they’ve come so far. They actually went to The Family Centre the other day with some of the other Syrian kids and spoke to an audience about where they came from and their struggles,” one of their coaches told me.
While both boys endured a great deal on their eventual path to Canada, they have finally settled in Edmonton and now have their first season with Free Footie under their belt. Despite the circumstances of where they came from, Samer and Muhammad are both incredibly good-natured, engaging, and compassionate young boys who became friends after they met in school.
While Samer is quite an animated kid with a big smile and laugh, Muhammad is more reserved, but they both love to play, laugh, and be together. “When I came to Canada I did not know how to play soccer or speak English. But my heart told me soccer is a good sport. It is the best game. I met my new best friend by playing soccer,” Samer told me.
One of Samer’s coaches was especially enthusiastic about Samer’s affection with soccer. “Playing organized sports is an amazing way for young newcomers like Samer and Muhammad to learn how to communicate in a new language and make new friends… a lot of the parents see playing soccer as a way of becoming more Canadian.”
At the same time, while many of the parents of refugees who play would love to attend the matches, it can difficult due to timing. Samer’s and Muhammad’s parents occasionally come out to watch games, but usually cannot.
“A lot of the parents spend their daytimes learning English, which means they’re super busy during the day which makes it difficult to come out.” Regardless, both parents and kids are undoubtedly thankful for the opportunity Free Footie provides.
“They love Free Footie. They’re cool boys and they really appreciate it.”
Organized sports can help provide young newcomers to Canada with friends, a community, and a sense of belonging which may have been lost after leaving their home country. Despite everything they’ve been through, Samer and Muhammad are exemplary kids both on and off the pitch, but above all, they love to play.