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SOAS Students Help Integrate Refugees Through Sport

Raphael Gregorian cc2

Aidan Lonergan, BA History

‘Camden Cares’, a project created through the 3 Faith Forum’s ParliaMentors programme, was launched recently by five SOAS students. ParliaMentors is a UN award-winning leadership programme which gives university students the unique opportunity to work with MPs to form projects for social action. With the support of both Westminster and leading NGOs, ParliaMentors has been enabling students to effect real change in their communities since 2007.

Initially, SOAS undergraduates Raphael Gregorian, Emmanuel Etuh, Ramia Farag, Nazgol Kafai and Mounir Haddad initiated Camden Cares with the goal of assisting specifically Syrian refugee families with their first steps into UK life. Soon however, they realised that for the project to positively affect as many of those incoming as possible, the task at hand would have to be even greater in reach. “One of the main things people asked,” said Raphael, “was why restrict Camden Cares to just Syrians? We thought that was a fair point. So now, the project involves not just Syrian families, but Eritrean, Afghan, and Kurdish families too.”

The first footballing session was held January 16th at the Arsenal Hub, Islington, and was an overwhelming success. Twenty-five newly arrived young people, aged between 14 and 20, enjoyed an all-expenses paid day of instructory games on a state of the art 4G astroturf pitch, with food and transport costs covered thanks to the funding the Camden Cares project has received from both 3FF, 02 Big Think, and the SOAS Students’ Union.

The Camden Cares team were encouraged by the effect the outing had on the youngsters, who were treated to a “great time; exchanging numbers, taking pictures, and sharing social media accounts.” So successful was the day that the next is already marked down for March 19th, in which a tour of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium will also be part of the overall package. The team now hopes to focus most of their efforts and energy on working with the ever-helpful Arsenal Foundation in the preparation of further pursuits.

Football aside, another aim of Camden Cares has been to offer young and newly-arrived refugees support with getting to grips with the English language. In this endeavour, the team hoped to utilise the standing of SOAS as a renowned centre for the learning of Arabic to achieve their goal. As Mounir highlighted, “there’s no other institution in the UK that houses this many Arabic speaking and learning students, so we wanted to take advantage.”

Again, this goal has been met with success, with over 40 Arabic-speaking applicants from SOAS having offered their services as volunteers for the project. They plan to get working on helping the youngsters with translation services and homework soon.

For anyone interested in getting involved in the ParliaMentors programme for 2016, the application process is opening soon on the 3FF website. Successful applicants will invest themselves in a year-long scheme in which they plan and ultimately launch their very own social action project, and will be given free-reign in the shaping of the venture. Raphael certainly recommends it. “It was easy,” the third year Economics and History undergraduate explained. “Five of us just said let’s do this, and from then on it didn’t take much time. Personally, I had never done anything like this before. Coming to SOAS, it seemed initially that everyone was involved in some form of charity, so it was a bit daunting. But it’s given me a great sense of pride.”

When asked why they believed football in particular was proving such a useful tool for settling recently arrived refugees into life in the UK, the Camden Cares team consulted a tagline of theirs that they believe sums up why the project has met with such success so far. “Football is an international language,” they said, “so everyone can get involved.”

Image: Raphael Gregorian

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