Sport is renowned for bringing people from all over the world together, and now cricket has united two seemingly disparate groups of men. Refugees and people seeking asylum have joined members of Knox Grammar School’s ‘Old Boys’ association to hone their bat and ball skills together in the lead up to cricket season.
The weekly pre-season cricket clinics at Auburn District Cricket Club on Saturdays have resulted in a mutually beneficial partnership for the 18 or so refugees and asylum seekers, who are clients of SSI, and members of the Old Knox Grammarians’ Association.
The new arrivals – mainly from cricket-loving nations Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but also from Burma and Afghanistan – have seen significant improvements in their cricket skills, and have been given an opportunity to connect with Australian-born community members.
And, as well as picking up some nifty tricks from the new arrivals to use on the pitch, the Knox alumni have been enjoying the benefits that come with volunteering to help people in need.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said Marco van Westing, 19, who graduated from Knox Grammar in 2012, had approached SSI and asked how he and some of his peers could help refugees and those applying for refugee status make the transition to living in Australia.
“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,” said Ms Roumeliotis.
SSI told Mr van Westing the best first step would be to attend SSI’s fortnightly Community Kitchen event to meet some new arrivals, so that’s what they did. “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.”
Cricket – a game loved equally by Australia and the South Asian nations where many of the clients they met were born – was the obvious middle ground.
Mr van Westing and his fellow alumni have loved training and playing with the group. “It’s just a great way to get involved in something that helps people. Sport connects the Australian community and allows asylum seekers and refugees to connect on that same level. It has been a very fun and fulfilling experience and one we hope to continue.”
Ms Roumeliotis added, “Sport has proven to be a great way of connecting people from around the world with communities here in NSW, around a common interest, and it’s a great confidence booster for new arrivals.”
“Regularly participating in sport gives them a focal point in their week, something that they can look forward to, and it’s also a healthy activity that helps them release some of the stress they have experienced in their ordeals.’’
The training has most certainly been beneficial for their cricket skills, too, according to Peter Abboud, Assistant Secretary of Auburn District Cricket Club, who said he noticed significant improvements. “Their skills were ‘raw’ at the beginning of the clinics, and they improved dramatically over the course of the training. Two of them played for our Club this Sunday just passed – one of them was the top-scorer, and the other batted and bowled very well, too.”
Mr van Westing said he hoped the Knox Grammar Old Boys could take part in regular events with the refugees and asylum seekers SSI works with, and plans to return to his old school to talk to current students about his involvement with refugees and asylum seekers.