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Calgary Police kick off match against kids from Soccer Without Boundaries

For the first time, kids from Soccer Without Boundaries took on Calgary police in a match meant to build trust between kids from diverse backgrounds and officers.

'We're here to be their friends and to help them when they need,' says constable

Soccer Without Boundaries challenged the Calgary Police to a soccer match for the first time Friday morning. 0:46

They don't all speak English, but they do all speak soccer, and they just kicked off a sweaty "conversation" with Calgary cops. 

For the first time, kids from Soccer Without Boundaries took on Calgary police in a match meant to build trust between kids from diverse backgrounds and officers.

"Soccer is an international language," said Jean-Claude Munyezamu, founder of the organization. 

"You don't need to speak English. You don't even need a soccer field. You just need something resembled to a ball." 

Originally from Rwanda, Jean-Claude Munyezamu received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work with Calgary youth. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Nearly 2 dozen countries

Soccer Without Boundaries began seven years ago, after Munyezamu saw the need for it in his neighbourhood.

"There's more than 1,000 children living within 200 square metres. The children had nothing to do, really," he said. 

His program offers a summer camp and a year-round soccer program for new Canadians, refugees, low-income families and local kids. 

Today, more than 115 kids from at least 22 different countries are enrolled.

"I stopped counting, because one girl, she was mad because I did not mention Sakatchewan." 

Soccer Without Boundaries offers a summer camp and year-round soccer program for new Canadians, refugees, low-income families and any other kids who want to get involved. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

'We're here to be their friends'

To bring Friday's match together, Munyezamu reached out to Const. Raul Espinosa, a member of the CPS diversity resource team.

"I've known Raul for a few years now. Whenever there is issues, not only when there is trouble — no, also when there is opportunities — I call Raul to come and talk to kids and meet with them."

'If one of these kids see me in the community, rest assured they're gonna come up to me knowing who I am now, talk to me,' says Raul Espinosa.

Originally from Colombia, Espinosa said he understands why newcomers to Canada might at first be wary of police.

"We sometimes relate the uniform in our countries to bribes, to corruption, to not being responsible or accountable for the actions that they do sometimes," he said.

"When they see us like this, and we can express the fact that we're human beings as well ... and that we're here to be their friends and to help them when they need, it's a huge bonus for us."

Success stories

Many of the first program participants have now stepped up as leaders.

"All the coaches you see, they used to play soccer with me when they were six, or seven," said Munyezamu. 

One woman named Daniella has just won a full scholarship to play soccer for the University of North Dakota.

"It's wonderful for two reasons. It's gonna motivate these children to stay in the sport. Also, for immigrant parents who might not want to send their daughters to play sport, it's something," said Munyezamu.

With files from Monty Kruger