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, founder of Umoja Community Mosaic, 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, Soccer Without Boundaries, 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.
In March 2020, Jean Claude and his team realized that many families were being affected significantly more due to the onset, and subsequent Covid-19 pandemic, because of difficulty accessing food and necessary resources, loss of employment, and inadequate and unfair distribution of services. A food hamper program was born providing staples and culturally appropriate and familiar foods, diapers, milk and formula to underserved Calgarians in communities across Calgary.
The need continued to grow, and has increased steadily every month since the start of the pandemic, currently supporting over 850 families with food twice a month.
In the fall of 2020, the organization changed its name to Umoja Community Mosaic and increased its mandate to include the food hamper program, youth leadership, and online tutoring while continuing to provide weekly soccer programming and summer soccer camps in 3 quadrants of the city.
Immigrant parents and youth are being introduced to other families in their neighborhoods, with the assistance of community programming provided by Umoja, building up community supports and being introduced to natural supports in their area. Friendships develop and program users graduate to become volunteers and leaders. These connections and experience allow for leadership and employment skills to develop and strengthens the community, for the health, safety and benefit of all.
Our primary goal is to provide an outreach and support program that engages underserved youth and families to participate and integrate into their community. We offer a weekly free drop-in Saturday Soccer Club within walking distance that runs all year. Over 130 different children from over 20 different countries and ranging from pre-school to high school age participated last year alone. Last year we enabled over 20 of our regulars to take their soccer skills to the next level by registering them for a local competative soccer club and arranging rides for them.
This 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 gave working parents, some from single parent families, an affordable and safe week of summer camp for their children. By the end of the week, the children improved their soccer skills and made new friends. We observed that the kids, and their parents, developed a feeling of belonging in their new country and especially in their new neighbourhood. Another bonus was the comfort with law enforcement officers that was developed during the kids’ scrimmages with the Calgary Police Soccer Team on the last day of camp!
Jean-Claude’s original grassroots volunteer group has grown into an innovative multicultural outreach program aimed at integrating new Canadians into their community. Umoja 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 Umoja’s highlights this year, his response would be:
Mosaic Food & Nutrition Program: Twice a month, over 850 families, including single mothers and seniors receive large food hampers compiling of culturally appropriate and familiar food staples, along with diapers, baby formula and milk for those needing extra resources. Volunteers support the program by delivering the hampers to all areas of the city in a safe and respectful manner. Families have come to rely on and trust Umoja to support them when they need it, and in turn Umoja listens and learns from them to know what Calgary’s communities are needing and stepping up to support them.
Soccer Camp (Summers): Last summer’s 4 soccer camps were extra special because Covid-19 restrictions had lifted and children were finally able to play together again. The camps were full and were run by a dedicated team of volunteers, many of whom were former participants. As in previous year’s, the end-of-season Community BBQ & Soccer Tournament held at the Marlborough Community field got the kids playing against the Calgary Police. Great fun was had by all!
Saturday Soccer Program (weekly): Our weekly drop in soccer club has retained its members for over seven years because of the consistency of our volunteers. The club has grown to include programming in SW, NE and NW Calgary fields. On a weekly basis our team provides coaches, equipment and supervisors for the many excited children and youth who come out to play soccer with their friends. For the last year our kids have learned 5 Fundamental Life Lessons through the teaching of Les Hewitt (author of “The Power of Focus”). We advertise through local churches, community associations and established personal networks in order to ensure as many children as possible are able to attend.
Community Connect (online tutoring and after school program): As soon as it is safe to do so again, we will begin our after-school programming where elementary kids can stay after school for help with reading, lessons in art, music and soccer. In years past, we have offered lessons in sketching, voice, and guitar. A “student of the day” is always honored and a new word added to their vocabularies, which can be especially helpful for children of immigrants!
Our waiting list for children to matched up to online tutors is long and we are always looking for more caring individuals to help give educational support online to elementary and junior-high students. With dedicated donors we have managed to supply many families with sometimes their only computer in the home so that children can do online schooling and tutoring.
The Mosaic Food & Nutrition Program costs $50 000/month to support over 850 with food twice a month. Committed donors to this program would be an incredible gift to these struggling families, and to us who support them. Donors are invited to visit the program and to volunteer in delivering hampers in a safe manner, if interested.
Soccer is a universal language. After thousands of hours of volunteer time, Umoja now needs to establish a formal structure and properly fund our annual summer camps and year-round weekly soccer and enrichment programs with the goal of expanding into even more communities.
We are asking for your generous support and sponsorship of Umoja’s programming. 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 support to cover the costs of purchasing food staples for our hamper program, including diapers, milk and baby formula. Regular volunteers who can commit to 2-3 hours on a weekly basis would also be a gift.
We need volunteer and paid staff support to run the Saturday Soccer Club, the Summer Soccer Camps and our after-school and online tutoring programs. If we expand to offering multiple camps 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: