Soccer is proving to be a great unifier for refugees, people seeking refugee status and Australian communities.
Refugees and people claiming asylum who are supported by Settlement Services International (SSI) were joined by Knox Grammar School alumni on the weekend to take part in a soccer knock-out competition.
About 40 people took part in the tournament at Lidcombe between teams of five, which was organised by SSI staff on Saturday, February 15.
Also taking part in the competition were about six members of the Knox Grammar Old Boys alumni.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the former Knox Grammar students had asked how they could support new arrivals.
“It was very inspiring to see how proactive the boys from Knox Grammar School were in wanting to support people who have come to Australia from very difficult circumstances,” Ms Roumeliotis said.
“One of the school’s alumni, Marco van Westing, approached SSI and asked how he and his friends could help refugees, and those people applying for refugee status, make the transition to living in Australia.
“When staff at SSI proposed a soccer competition for our clients, the Knox Grammar Old Boys thought it was a great opportunity for them to get involved.
“Soccer has proven to be a great way of connecting new arrivals from around the world with communities here in NSW, around a common interest.
“It’s also a healthy activity that helps people who have recently arrived in Australia release some of the stress they have experienced in their ordeals.’’
Ms Roumeliotis said the idea for a soccer competition came from SSI Case Manager Javier Ortiz.
Mr Ortiz said many SSI clients had shown an interest in playing soccer in the past, so he wanted to organise a regular outlet for that enthusiasm.
Saturday’s knockout competition would hopefully be the start of a regular event for SSI staff and its clients, he said.
Mr van Westing, 19, who graduated from Knox Grammar at the end of 2012, said he and his former school’s alumni had wanted to participate in more community work when he approached SSI.
“When we first approached SSI about getting involved and working with refugees and asylum seekers, we were told it might be a good idea to attend the SSI Community Kitchen program with some of those new arrivals,” Mr van Westing said.
“We met some of those people who had recently arrived in the country and we thought we would definitely like to help them get more involved in Australian culture.
“But at the same time, we realise it’s important to empathise with them and try to understand and respect the cultures they have come from.
“Soccer is a universal game and I think it helps break down barriers.”
Mr van Westing said he hoped the Knox Grammar Old Boys could take part in regular events with SSI and the refugees and asylum seekers it works with.
He also hoped to get current Knox Grammar School students involved in working with the sector, and he planned to speak to the school about his experiences with refugees and asylum seekers.
SSI Online Communications Coordinator, Callan Lawrence, 0478 156 491, or, 02 8799 6746
SSI Marketing and Communications Manager, Angela Calabrese 0401 284 828