As a member of SSI’s team in the City2Surf and captain of a soccer team comprising members of western Sydney’s Rohingya community, Mohammad Younis knows well the benefits of participating in sporting activities.
Muhammad Younis enjoyed CIty2Surf so much last year he can't wait to run again in 2017.
It’s not just for personal health and wellbeing; it also gives a community something to be proud of and provides opportunities for building friendships and connections with other community groups.
It’s an opportunity denied the minority Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, where the United Nations says they are arguably the most persecuted peoples in the world.
According to the UN, the Rohingya people are denied basic rights, including citizenship, despite the fact they have lived in the Buddhist majority country for generations. They have been made stateless by government decree, systemic discrimination has erupted into violence against them and now hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are living as refugees across Southeast Asia.
In addition to being treated like illegal immigrants, the Rohingya in Myanmar do not even have the opportunity to run or play sports like football.
“In Myanmar we lack everything,” said Mr Younis.
“No freedom of movement, no access to health. They treat us like foreigners. But my great, great, great grandfathers — my ancestors — were of the land!
“In Rakhine state we were not allowed to play football, not even to be on the ground. So we used the rice fields as soccer courts.”
Mr Younis can barely believe how different things are in Australia, “playing here with my brothers, playing freely — even with lights!”
Not only is he allowed to run on a football pitch, he can also run in huge community events like City2Surf.
After completing the run in 2016 he can’t wait to start preparing for City2Surf 2017.
“Running in the City2Surf, seeing so many people, made me happy. Being part of the crowd of runners made me so happy. It made me feel amazing. It made me run fast. I tried hard. My target was first place,” he said.
Aged 32, Mr Younis considers himself an old man. His wish is to be a good role model in his Rohingya community.
“I want my small community to have a big name,” he said.
“As a captain, I always advise my team to try hard and play for Australia. Imagine if one Rohingya boy could play for Australia! That would be a big success for me.”
Someone definitely following his example is star football player Najib Najib, who this year will be running the City2Surf for the first time.
He was inspired by Mr Younis. “Last year I saw Mohammad after the event and he looked so happy. I thought, ‘I want that happiness too!’”
Follow this link to join the duo on Team SSI, “strong and united”, in City2Surf 2017.