Soccer Without Boundaries

Soccer is a universal language. We use soccer as a vehicle for positive change, providing under-served youth with a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion, and personal success. Through our passion for play, we connect kids and neighbours through soccer.

Jean-Claude Munyezamu poses with players from Vista HeightsOur Story Why We Exist

For a child moving to a new country with a new culture and a new language, soccer offers something familiar where they know the rules and how to play. As Jean Claude Munyezamu knows from experience “on the soccer field it doesn’t matter where you come from and, for a while, you can forget what you left behind.” 

Jean-Claude Munyezamu is a Rwandan Canadian who escaped the genocide in 1994 and volunteered in refugee camps in Somalia and Sudan before moving to Canada in 1998. When Jean-Claude moved to Calgary he continued to volunteer with places like The Mustard Seed so that he would meet people and continue to improve his English. Jean-Claude says that he feels that Calgary has adopted him and that he wants to do what he can to help others who are new to the city. He knows what it’s like to have to leave your home and culture and everything that is familiar to you. When he saw children in his neighbourhood struggling to fit in and falling through the cracks he knew he had to do something. Read more about Jean-Claude.

In 2010, after attending a Glenbrook community meeting concerning youth crime, Jean Claude Munyezamu started a free grassroots soccer program for immigrant and low income children. Today, boys and girls of every age, skill level and culture participate every week in the program that now runs year-round, indoor and outdoor. Participants come from Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Korea, China, The Philippines, Uruguay, Colombia, Congo and more. Many came to Canada as refugees. Some of the children who participated when the program began have returned as volunteer coaches. This leadership experience has helped some get their first job or move on to higher education.

Immigrant parents are being introduced to other families in their neighborhood, whom they can rely on for support and information pertaining to their new lives in Calgary. Furthermore, parents in the local soccer association, Calglen, have embraced these families into their club, offering rides, developing friendships on the soccer fields and sharing used equipment of their own. Older players have gained work experience as volunteer coaches, using this as a step towards an entry level job or higher education. 

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Like many Canadian urban centers, Calgary has seen tremendous growth as many immigrant and refugee families move to the city. With minimal language skills and hard working parents, the children and teens in this community need the support of a program like Soccer Without Boundaries (SWB) to facilitate their transition and provide a safe, athletic program to occupy their time. 

Weekly soccer program with players on the fieldOur Impact What We Do

Our primary goal is to provide an outreach program that engages youth to participate in soccer as a means to integrate immigrant and low income children into their new community. Last summer SWB offered a free summer soccer program in a local greenspace. Nearly 100 children participated, representing 19 different countries and with ages ranging from pre-school to high school. This camp offered an affordable, safe environment for children with working parents but was not financially viable for a volunteer based organization.

  • This summer, SWB sought out to expand our programs and made plans to hold a Summer Camp in August (August 8-12, 2016). A Soul of the City grant from the Calgary Foundation was made to help establish the camp as a sustainable annual  enterprise. 

This new Summer Camp was designed to provide a supportive environment for children of new Canadians to help them become accustomed to their new home. This opportunity will also give working parents, some from single parent families, an affordable and safe week of summer camp for their children. By the end of the week, we've seen that the children have improved their soccer skills and have made new friends. We've also seen that the kids, and their parents, develop a feeling of belonging in their new country and especially in their new neighbourhood.

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Jean-Claude’s original grassroots volunteer group has grown into an innovative multicultural outreach program aimed at integrating new Canadians into their community. SWB is designed to bring communities together, break down barriers and let children feel that they belong. It allows them to build self-esteem, develop leadership skills and strengthen social relationships through team work, fair play, and conflict resolution. It also provides their parents and families with a means to volunteer, meet their neighbours and get involved in their community.

If you were to ask Jean-Claude about SWB's accomplishments this year, this is his response:

  1. It was really good to see so many of the kids who were previous participants in our club and camps serving as small group leaders at our Summer Camp this year. This year we had 21. A number of our previous participants also obtained jobs with recommendations from us.

  2. Also it was good to see both Daniella and Moneer receiving special recognition for their soccer skills.

  3. I was proud of our kids who shared their personal immigration stories during this year’s Jane’s Walks.

If you were to ask Jean-Claude about SWB highlights from 2016, this is his response:

  1. It was an encouraging year in that SWB was able to take over all expenses for the club and Summer Camp thanks to generous donors. People generously donated shoes, socks and shin guards for those who couldn’t afford to buy their own. We had some very appreciative parents who even expressed an interest in volunteering at next year’s camp. The soccer match with the Calgary Police team was a highlight for many.  We have also had more parents volunteering at our weekly Saturday Soccer Club. 

  2. Saturday Soccer Club: We had anywhere from 12 kids on a rainy day (indoors) to 40-45 kids playing at our field in the Summer. We draw from a group of over 80 regular participants. 

  3. Soccer Camp: We had 113 kids finish out the week at camp this year.

Soccer volunteer with playersOur Programs How We Do It

Soccer Camp (August 8-12, 2016):  This summer, we secured four paid soccer coaches supported by volunteer coaches (some of whom were youth volunteers who attended SWB) to help the children work on their soccer skills and support them on and off the field. At the end of the week each child returned home with a participation kit, including a soccer ball, a water bottle, a t-shirt and hopefully a new sense of belonging. Our Soccer Camp week ended with a barbeque for all the participants, coaches, volunteers and parents (about 400 people showed).

Saturday Soccer Program (weekly):  We've held regular Saturday soccer programs where many of the summer camp attendees were among these children. We advertised through local churches, community associations and established personal networks in order to ensure as many children as possible were able to attend. SWB connected with organizations supporting recent Syrian immigrant familes, some of whom have been in contact with these organizations.

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If people are wondering about our future plans, here's where we're going:       Besides offering the after school tutoring program which includes “Electives 4 Kids” (visual arts and music), we intend to offer multiple camps around the city. If we could obtain a suitable facility we would also like to offer affordable day care to the Calgary housing community.

Soccer player displays skills with new friendsOur Requests What You Can Do

In April 2016, Soccer Without Boundaries was awarded a $10,000 Soul of the City grant, voted by the community and provided by the Calgary FoundationCalgary Economic Development, and RBC Foundation. This grant was used to help fund the cost of a one-week summer soccer camp that took place in the summer of 2016. 

  • “Children can understand soccer even if they don’t understand the local language and culture. They know the basic rules of the games and they soon start to learn, or re-learn, structure, authority and consequences. Most of the time kids from refugee camps don’t like rules, but they respect soccer rules.” - Jean-Claude Munyezamu, 2016

Soccer is a universal language. After thousands of hours of volunteer time, SWB now needs to establish a formal structure and properly fund our annual summer camps and year-round weekly soccer programs with the goal of expanding into more communities.

  • “Every child deserves to feel safe from harm, to have fun, to feel that they belong, and to start their new life on a level playing field.” - Jean-Claude Munyezamu, 2016
  • We are asking for your generous support and sponsorship of Soccer Without Boundaries. Charitable receipts are issued for all donations over $20. You can donate by clicking here.

On-going sponsorship opportunities

What do we need?

We need regular paid staff to administrate the Saturday Club, the Summer Camps (we want to expand) and a future after school tutoring program. If we expand to offering multiple camps and the after school program we will also need more volunteers. We definitely need funding for our rentals, camps and future programs. A facility within walking distance of the Glenbrook housing complex (or a van/bus to transport them to a facility) would allow us to expand to offer programming to meet other needs ie. ESL, alternative sports programs, healthy eating courses…

Loneliness is one of the greatest challenges for new Canadians. They can often live in Canada ten years before making their first Canadian friend. By serving immigrant kids in a volunteer capacity Calgarians can connect with their families and make adjusting to a new life bearable. Our “call to action” would be: 

  • “To reach out to a newcomer by serving those most important to them - their children.”
Calgary