Calgary

From 28 countries, these Calgarians are creating one community through soccer

Members of the Soccer Without Boundaries summer camp took on Calgary police officers in a friendly match Saturday.

Police officers faced off against kids at the Soccer Without Boundaries summer camp on Saturday

Kids play soccer as part of Soccer Without Boundaries in Calgary Saturday. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

Standing around a southwest Calgary soccer pitch on Saturday, you could hear snippets of chatter in English, French, Arabic and Swahili.

On the field, kids race past each other, smiling and laughing as they try to gain control of the ball. On the sidelines, a curious 8-year-old eagerly questions a patient police officer about how his Taser works and what the other items on his belt are for.

Everyone was gathered to watch participants of the Soccer Without Boundaries summer camp take on Calgary police officers in a friendly match.

The organization, now in its eighth year, brings together new Canadians and low-income families in the Calgary community of Glenbrook, to enjoy the beautiful game.

Jean-Claude Munyezamu said he wanted to help troubled kids in his neighbourhood stay busy. As a refugee to Canada himself, he knows how important it is to combat isolation for new Canadians.

"There was youth delinquency, graffiti, shoplifting, all those things that kids who are bored do. So I decided to do something about it, I started a game in the park with kids," he said.

That's now expanded to include weekly games, a summer camp and after-school program. Children as young as two-years-old take part, and some who started playing soccer eight years ago are now teens who volunteer to coach. More than 120 children from 28 different countries participate.

Eight-year-old Uriel Kumbukilutete said he loves the Soccer Without Boundaries summer camp. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

"Parents meet other parents, children meet other children, and some of them form lasting relationships," Munyezamu said.

Jean-Claude Bapfunya's six-year-old son took part in this year's summer camp.

"I think it's brilliant, honestly it's amazing to put people from different backgrounds together for the same cause, which is to get out and play," he said.

Munyezamu said the annual match that sees kids face off against police is especially important, as many families come from countries where they may have been victims of institutionalized violence from police, or military or other people in uniform.

"It doesn't matter how much you tell them Canada is safe and police are good … seeing them playing soccer … these kids, they know members of the police, when they see them on the street they know who they are," he said.

Calgary police Const. Chad Peterson chats with a child at the Soccer Without Boundaries summer camp. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

Eight-year-old Uriel Kumbukilutete said he felt confident his team would beat the officers in Saturday's game.

"The police lost two years in a row versus us, so I think we're good to win again," he said. "They joke around that when I score a [goal] they're going to arrest me. They're really nice."

Munyezamu's 15-year-old daughter Annabelle volunteers with the organization. She said she's seen her neighbourhood come together since her dad started the charity.

"The change I've seen is that people really know each other, we really have a sense of community."

With files from Audrey Neveu