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.
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.