Refugee Stories: Local NGO mentors refugee children through sport
Photo courtesy the Can Bou Play Foundation.
For many refugee children, having a safe space to simply enjoy being a kid is rare.
Many of them have come from dangerous situations, endured much hardship and might sometimes feel alienated in their host countries.
That's why local NGO, the Can Bou Play Foundation, has launched a mentorship programme to assist refugee children living in Trinidad and Tobago.
Amiel Mohammed, Foundation CEO, said the Foundation has always sought to provide an outlet for vulnerable children through sport, and the group decided to see how they could assist refugee children by reaching out to the Living Water Community's Ministry for Migrants and Refugees.
Many of the children are Venezuelan refugees, however there are refugee children from other countries that also take part.
“As we all know, the plight of Venezuelan refugees has been highlighted and Can Bou Play’s core ideals are to create opportunities and platforms for the youth through sport, and we just felt that helping vulnerable groups, especially refugee children, is important.
“A lot of times they come from very traumatic backgrounds and regardless of the various opinions, we believe that children should be protected. So we thought that by providing that communal activity and a safe, fun atmosphere, through sport, that we could help them,” he said.
Mohammed said the programme consists of regular weekly football training sessions where children do drill practices and interact with each other in friendly games.
“We know that many of them have not come from such good situations but at the end of the day everyone is on an even playing field during our practice, and we just try to have fun,” he said.
The mentors of the programme are comprised of professional footballers, many of whom are employed by football teams abroad.
"We have core founders several of whom are abroad playing internationally but we have a capable team of other members who have filled the gap to lead these mentoring sessions," he said.
(Photo courtesy the Can Bou Play Foundation.)
Growing football talent
Mohammed also noted that in terms of sport, several of the world’s top football players are immigrants or refugees, such as former Chelsea footballer Mario Stanic or Luka Mordric, a Croation refugee who became one of FIFA’s best football players.
He said it’s possible that some Venezuelan children today might even become footballers for the country in the future.
“That is prevalent across the world in terms of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants bolstering the national teams where they moved to, and adding to club programmes.”
“For example, Canada’s star player (Alphonso Davies), was a Liberian asylum seeker, he was the country’s highest profile player and now plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world (Bayern Munich).
“We could very well see in the next 10 years or so that Venezuelan children who moved here, whether they bolster our national team or any of the club sides, may find their time to shine.”
Recently, Venezuela’s team performed admirably at the Copa America 2019, holding Peru to a 0-0 draw with a 10-man team and freezing Brazil in their tracks with a 0-0 draw.
Venezuela’s team also soundly beat the USA 3-0 during a friendly match as part of preparatory games for Copa America 2019.
(Photo: Children take part in football games through the Can Bou Play Foundation. Photo courtesy the Can Bou Play Foundation.)
Bringing children together through 'the beautiful game'
Mohammed said now, more than ever, helping the lives of refugees and refugee children is important.
“Sport is a unifying agent, it’s a unifying language and even more so in terms of football. It allows people to communicate without speaking.
“People have that understanding and connection, so even in terms of our personal capacity, although some of us are not bilingual, the children can grasp and understand what we’re trying to do, they understand that it’s about having fun and creates a platform for them to express themselves.
“It’s important to create that communal space so that they can just enjoy being a child, kick a ball with their friends and spend time together.”
“I think it also shows them that there is support for them, and ways for them to be treated humanely and to feel safe.”
“We believe that that cultural integration and the breakdown of stigmas, especially between children, is important and that includes not just refugees but all parts of our society,” he said.
The Foundation said it accepts children into the programme from as young as four years old up to 15 years of age and welcomes both boys and girls.
Mohammed said that following the success of the first sessions, they would carry out a review and possibly resume the sessions in September.
Mohammed said they are also happy to accept any support, donations or other assistance from corporate and individual bodies.
Editor’s note: This series is done through collaboration with the UNHCR and United Nations Trinidad and Tobago office for World Refugee Day.
About the CAN BOU Play Foundation
The CAN BOU PLAY Foundation, established in May 2018, seeks to develop a world-renowned mentorship programme that uses sport and professional athletes at its core.
The CAN BOU PLAY Foundation aims to create a forum where professional athletes can mentor youth, establish a platform of social inclusion and pioneer fun raising initiatives for football (sport) related projects.
For more information visit https://www.canbouplayfoundation.com/
Refugee versus migrant: What’s the difference?
Refugees are defined by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reason of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” is unable to return to his home country.
The definition was widened under the 1984 Cartagena Declaration to include “persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”.
By contrast, a migrant is defined as someone who chooses to move mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons.
Refugees are defined and protected in international law: the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as other legal texts, such as the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, remain the cornerstone of modern refugee protection.