People of Free Footie: Canada Day Edition

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.

You can send a kid like Samer or Muhammed to Footie Camp for $250. For more info click the button below!

Canada 150: The Story of a Ball

Since 2014 VOLO Athletics has been producing branded soccer balls for Free Footie. Tim Adams, founder of Free Footie, called us due to the fair trade aspect of our products. He felt this was an important element that aligned with his values and the ethos of the soccer program he created. The fair trade component of our soccer balls refers to the labour that goes into making them. In 1996 soccer ball production was exposed for using child labour when LIFE Magazine published an article with a young boy stitching a Nike soccer ball. 

Fairtrade International stepped in to create guidelines, which today stand to assure against the use of child labour, offer fair wages to the adult workers and funding for social programs from every ball. VOLO pays those funds, the ‘fair trade premium’, into a separate account that is owned and controlled by the employees and they decide by committee how to spend those funds.

There have been a variety of uses that help raise the standard of living for these employees. Access to fresh water, basic health care like eye exams and diabetes tests, and purchasing school supplies for their children are examples of such programs supported by fair trade premiums.

VOLO Athletics is proud to have been working with Free Footie because they work to bring soccer to hundreds of kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to play. This aspiration aligns with my motivations as the founder of VOLO Athletics – I want to help people. In my case, it’s empowering people in the fight against poverty. In a similar spirit, Free Footie is empowering youth through soccer to learn new skills on the pitch which they can apply to their every day life off the pitch. Soccer is a great platform for that.

Taking it a step further, in 2016 Tim wanted to use the ball as an even greater message by inviting indigenous visual artists to create the artwork which would be incorporated into the design of the ball.

The first ball, designed by Cree Métis mixed media artist, Dawn Marie Marchand, was a remarkable success. The community embraced the message this ball provided resulting in enormous attention for Free Footie, their program and Dawn Marie. The ball even managed to get it in the hands of our Prime Minister!

This year, Jason Carter, one of Canada’s most exciting and accomplished contemporary Aboriginal visual artists has design the ball. It looks beautiful and is sure to turn heads both on and off the pitch.

It’s this inclusive approach to the way in which Free Footie operates their program that drives me to want to continue to be involved with them. Pushing for fair trade, commissioning indigenous artists to showcase their talent and stories, and welcoming youth who otherwise wouldn’t play the game – great aspirations they’ve made happen with an otherwise simple soccer ball.

Soccer has long since been a conduit by which a variety of issues travel beyond the game itself and Free Footie is tapping into that to channel some very positive messages. Thanks for including VOLO in your work!

James Milligan, MBA

Founder & President

VOLO Athletics Inc.

Vancouver, Canada