Football Programs for Syrian Youth Making a Difference

For a newcomer to any country, it can be difficult to get immersed into the local culture or even get around without knowing the local tongue. That was one of the major issues that Alikhan Popat found out as he conducted the Football for the World’s in class sessions with Syrian youth this January through a partnership with Shamrose – a local not for profit focused on helping Syrian newcomers acclimatize to life in the Kitchener/Waterloo region.

The program itself all started back in October 2016 where Alikhan and FFTW volunteers have been privileged enough to work with a group of about 60 individuals by providing football training and equipment to the group, which included full kits, football boots and footballs. The program set up by the FFTW in partnership with Shamrose looks to use the universal language of football along with in-class sessions to help teach Syrian youth about Canadian culture and life skills that can help them adjust to life in this country and also feel confident about their future. These in-class sessions, which became an extension to the program in November 2016, have been made available to young men and women in the community and have extended beyond the realm of football.

Group photo after the training session at RIM Park

Group photo after the training session at RIM Park

The program draws on the use of football in a school context, which is a primary characteristic of the programming FFTW runs in Uganda and Jamaica. The FFTW curriculum was adapted to meet the needs of the newcomer youth and adapting to a new life in Canada. It was FFTW’s aim to create a fun, comfortable and educational atmosphere for the Syrian newcomer youth.

The in-class sessions in particular were not only for learning purposes but also provided a space for the youth to express anything that was on their mind and talk openly about the issues they face. Hussam Al-Haffar, one of Shamrose’s Administrative Coordinators went on to explain the benefits of the program, “It has been very good for the children to be able to express themselves and football allows them do to this. The partnership with FFTW is something very good, something very positive for these youth in the area as football is a language we can all speak – and not everybody needs to know English”.

Hussam Al-Haffar helping out one of the groups during an in class session

Hussam Al-Haffar helping out one of the groups during an in class session

The outcome has been quite positive, as the youth are being active and getting involved in the local community, while feeling comfortable expressing themselves. This success is something both FFTW and Shamrose hope to expand on. According to Al-Haffar, this program is good for the development of Syrian youth, explaining “The program started with just football which was a good start but it has become something more now, it is now not just about putting on training for kids but also developing them as humans and to get them used to Canadian life in a good and easy way”.

The success of this program is just the beginning according to Alikhan Popat, the FFTW Foundation’s Founder, “This is something we want to continue and with this country being built on giving people a chance, we want the Syrians to feel welcome and football is something they know. They may not know the culture and a lot of them have gone through a lot – but football is a basis for something that is comfortable for them and allows them to feel free and show their emotion while doing something they love”.

The Football for the World Foundation is actively looking for volunteers and if you are interested in getting involved at either the football sessions or in class sessions, please be sure to get in touch and email them at donate@footballfortheworld.org or call 226-978-1793.