Rosie King 2017-12-20 00:59:03
Just three years ago, Hakmat Fatah was living in Afghanistan and too busy working for his grandfather to even think about playing soccer. Making friends was something else the 10-year-old simply didn’t have time for. “In Afghanistan, people will only be your friend if you have money anyway,” says Hakmat, matter-of-factly. “We didn’t have any money, so I worked fixing cars.” Today, at 13, Hakmat calls Newcastle in New South Wales home, having fled his birthplace with his parents and three younger sisters two years ago to settle in the city’s small but character-filled suburb of Jesmond. Hakmat doesn’t work anymore—he goes to school instead— and he’s made plenty of friends in the country he happily calls home. And talking about these friends, some of whom are newer to Australia than he is, makes his brilliant brown eyes light up. But it’s the hours this young boy spends in his well-worn soccer boots, perfecting his dribbling skills and cheering on his teammates in Jesmond Football Club’s under-14s that really make his heart sing. “I love everything about it,” says Hakmat about playing for the team known as the Rams. “It makes me feel good — better than anything I did in Afghanistan. I try my best, and I hope I’m good at it. I only started playing this year and I never thought I’d be here, doing this. I feel very lucky, and my parents are proud.” Nearly 100 children aged six to 15 play for Jesmond Football Club. More than one-quarter of them are refugees from Sudan, Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The football club is supported by the Jesmond Lions Club and Lions Australia’s Community 100 grants program, a national Lions’ initiative. Clubs are giving away $100,000 to more than 100 projects to mark Lions’ centennial. “What the club is doing is unique and goes over and above helping children play sport,” says 37-year-old Troy Herbert Symes, 2016-17 club president. Hakmat is a glowing example of that. He didn’t speak any English when he got to Australia. These days, he’s always up for a chat. “He’s one of the most beautiful, well-mannered and kind children I’ve ever come across,” says Sue Woodard, secretary of the football club. “His confidence has grown so much this season, and his English has come on in leaps and bounds.” This blossoming, which isn’t unique to Hakmat, drives her. “Most of these kids have been through hell, and they get here and don’t seem to know where to go or who to turn to,” she says. “That’s where the game and the club come in. It brings them a bit of happiness, boosts their confidence and self-esteem, helps them make friends and shows them what a welcoming community they’re now an important part of. To see how far they’ve come is so rewarding.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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