Eihab Altalli (left) and Obai Altalli (right), two refugees who recently arrived in Canada, along with Ahmed Aref from West Ottawa Soccer Club. Photo by Barry Gray.
“It helps them integrate here. I’m pretty sure this will have some sort of positive impact on their integration in the Canadian culture. So it’s a great initiative from the club.”
West Ottawa Soccer Club is welcoming newcomers to Canada by offering free soccer registration for refugee families.
The program is open to all ages, for refugees from anywhere in the world, during their first year in Ottawa. West Ottawa Soccer largely serves the Stittsville, Kanata and West Carleton areas.
Stephanie Potter has been organizing this program at West Ottawa Soccer. She said in the fall when the refugee situation was often in the news, the club came up with this idea to help. She says the initiative fits with their club’s True Sport principles, which involves including everyone and giving back.
“We decided rather than knowing exactly how everything was going to work out we decided that we would kind of be nimble and basically make it up as we go along,” Potter said. “And knowing that at any point if we got so many people asking that it was too much for us to do all that for free, then we could have to reach out to community partners and ask for others to help us fund it.”
Potter said right now there are two youth who are registered and playing in the winter indoor league. A few others are in the registration process for the spring and summer leagues.
The club has also asked for donations of gently used equipment. Potter said within a half hour of the initiative being announced in December, a family had already called wanting to donate items. Now there are two bins full of equipment.
“Right now we have more equipment than we have people signed up,” said Potter. “It’s been really amazing, our membership. Right away I had parents writing me, ‘I want my son or daughter to volunteer, anything we can do to help let us know.’ I had two people write to me to say they’d like to donate money.”
Potter said they are balancing this initiative with serving their paid members and the fact that they are a non-profit club. She said they are taking all of the paid registrations, and then finding appropriate available spots for the registrants from this initiative.
“In terms of refugees, we will absolutely accommodate them at any point to the best of our ability. We know that their timelines are a little bit particular to their circumstance. So if somebody shows up in May and official registration has shut, and they’ve only just arrived, then we’ll do our best to put them in,” said Potter.
“We’re trying to make people’s settlement a softer landing. It can be pretty awful, having to go through what they’ve gone through. And soccer is a really great way, we think, of people being able to connect to their community.”
Ahmed Aref has played at West Ottawa Soccer for four years. Recently, he has been helping teenagers from a Syrian refugee family register for this program. He said he hopes they will be able to get into the spring and summer leagues.
“They played soccer before,” Aref said. “They also expressed their interest in other sports like swimming and fitness—weight lifting and cardio and stuff like that.”
Aref was introduced to the family by his mother-in-law, who met the family in Ottawa. He said he “offered to go casually to their house and see what they need.” He said he encourages individuals to look for these small opportunities to help refugee families, like offering to take them grocery shopping or hang up items in their home.
The teenagers have not yet started playing soccer at West Ottawa Soccer. Once they begin, Aref said he will drive the them to and from the soccer practices and games.
“I think it’s a great initiative, and a very kind gesture to refugees who are coming from bad circumstances. They’re trying to settle here. And these small things make a big difference,” said Aref.
“It helps them integrate here. I’m pretty sure this will have some sort of positive impact on their integration in the Canadian culture. So it’s a great initiative from the club.”SHARE THIS