'You don't need to speak English to play soccer': Calgary camp embraces cultural differences

Soccer Without Boundaries offers a free camp for kids this week. It welcomes new Canadians, refugees, low-income families and anyone in Calgary who enjoys the game and wants to get involved.

Youth program is free and runs all week at Glenbrook Community Association

Camp members take a break Monday at the Soccer Without Boundaries summer camp at the Glenbrook Community Association. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A soccer camp for children in Calgary is using the sport to create community and bring new Canadians together — despite participants speaking different languages and coming from more than 30 countries.

The organization, Soccer Without Boundaries, says its free summer camp and year-round program at the Glenbrook Community Association welcomes new Canadians, refugees, low-income families and anyone who enjoys the game and wants to get involved.

The executive director and founder, Jean-Claude Munyezamu, says he came up with the idea when he came across newcomer kids in his neighbourhood.

"I saw that the kids needed something to do. They were getting in trouble, there was graffiti and there was shoplifting in the neighbourhood," he said.

"So I brought a soccer ball and invited the parents and that's how we started."

Soccer Without Boundaries founder Jean-Claude Munyezamu says the camp helps develop a sense of community. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Nine years later, Munyezamu says more than 100 children are part of the program and come from countries all across the globe, including Syria, Sudan, Congo, Colombia and Afghanistan.

"You don't need to speak English to play soccer, so this is something that kids have in common," he said. 

Mother and volunteer Wedad al-Houari, left, pictured with program co-ordinator Christa Holten, says most of the kids at the camp are immigrants and new to Calgary, so soccer is a great way to bring them together. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Munyezamu explains that it's important for the kids to develop relationships and get a sense of belonging in their communities, and that another way to do that is to bring parents together through volunteer opportunities at the camp.

Wedad al-Houari, told CBC News she has benefited from making the connections.

"I myself was an isolated parent and Jean-Claude was one of the first people to bring me out of that isolation," said al-Houari.


Natalie Valleau is a journalist with CBC News. She grew up in Okotoks, Alta., and completed her undergrad at Mount Royal University and Masters of Journalism and Communications at Western University.

With files from Dan McGarvey