From new starts to starters

Sports programming important for youth and children newcomers

Two teams, St. Charles and SWCC, play soccer at the RecPlex.

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) is helping ease the arrival of newcomer youth and children in Canada through sports. Their sports team programming offers soccer, basketball, and track and field. It welcomes participants to their new home and gives them an opportunity to integrate into a community. 

“I think sports (are) very important in terms of aiding the transition many newcomers face when they come to Canada: new country, language, society, education system,” Gololcha Boru, lead program support worker for IRCOM’s after-school program, says.

After years of volunteering at IRCOM, Boru started working for the program in August 2014. 

“I felt a personal connection to IRCOM. I grew up in the neighborhood and have vivid memories of playing in the hallways,” Boru says. “Coaching really just fell into my lap, as it was a passion that I had.” 

In most cases for youth and child immigrants, the journey to Canada alone is an arduous one, Boru says. Upon arrival, newcomers are faced with a new set of difficulties and barriers, some of which are different and especially challenging for children. 

“Sometimes young children and youth are placed in difficult situations where they become the translator for the family and have that added pressure,” Boru says. “I believe sports give newcomer children and youth a certain release in life.”

Boru says funding pools in organized sports are smaller for the youth newcomers than those of more affluent areas in the city. Despite this strain, IRCOM has been successful in collaborating with numerous partners, making organized sports a viable and available option for as many youth and children newcomers as they can. 

“I hope that any kid from the (inner city) core, not only (from) IRCOM, is given the same opportunity to pursue their sporting dreams regardless of the socio-economic barriers that big systems and institutions sometimes place,” Boru says.      

Ganni Hassen, originally from Eritrea, arrived in Canada from Somalia. Hassen used to live at IRCOM and played soccer on the boys U-15 team all the way through the U-18 team. Now he is a youth program support worker.

“(IRCOM) gave me the chance to play soccer, a sport that I love,” Hassen says. “Now people in the community know if you want to play on a soccer team, you go to IRCOM because they do that.”

Hassen says the program attempts to supply rides and equipment for youth who play on higher level sports teams that IRCOM doesn’t offer. 

“Right now, IRCOM has only three soccer teams, but hopefully one day, we will have teams for all ages and a premier team,” Hassen says.  

Hassen’s favourite part about his work now is being able to continue participating in sports and IRCOM’s programming, especially “having fun play(ing) with my friends and winning!”

Published in Volume 71, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 5, 2017)

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