Former refugee holds summer soccer camp for Syrian kids in Winnipeg

People around the world come together to put on jerseys and cheer for their favourite teams but in Winnipeg a soccer camp used the love of sport to help refugee children feel at home.

‘When I played soccer I easily made friends’ says Omar Rahimi

A former refugee living in Winnipeg helped repay the kindness he experienced after moving to Canada, by extending it to a new generation of Syrian refugee children. 1:15

People around the world come together to put on jerseys and cheer for their favourite teams but in Winnipeg a soccer camp used the love of sport to help refugee children feel at home.

The sounds of laughter, shoes hitting the ground, and soccer balls flying into the back of the net filled the University of Winnipeg's Axworthy Health and RecPlex on Saturday as about 100 kids, mostly from Syria, took part in a soccer camp.

"Soccer is the number one sport in Syria and, just like hockey in Canada, every kid looks up to soccer players, they want to be like them, they want to be famous, they feel good playing soccer," said Omar Rahimi, founder of Liberty Football Club Soccer Academy.

"And that's the only thing that makes them feel good right now."

The sounds of laughter, shoes hitting the ground, and soccer balls flying into the back of the net filled the Axworthy Health and RecPlex on Saturday as about 100 kids, mostly from Syria, took part in a soccer camp. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)
Rahimi established the soccer academy in April because he knew, as a refugee himself, how important the sport can be to adapting in a new country and creating a new home. Born in a refugee camp in the desert in Iraq, Rahimi came to Canada in 2000.

"I remember when I first came here it was really hard to make friends, it was really hard to get to anything, to find jobs, go to school but when I played soccer I easily made friends," he said.

Soccer helped Omar Rahimi when he came to Canada as a refugee from Iraq in 2000. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)
Saturday's event was put on with the help of Lloyd Axworthy, a former minister of foreign affairs, who helped Rahimi's family and 150 other Kurdish families settle in Canada 15 years ago.

"It's nice to see they fulfilled what the goal was, which was to have this facility used by community people," said Axworthy.

"So young and old people can use this facility one third of the time, and that was a firm commitment from the university to share this facility, and when you see this happening, you realize how important it is."

For many of the children the soccer camp was a stark change to what they've experienced in their young lives so far, Rahimi said.

"They lost their homes, they lost their friends, they lost everything, they come here and the only thing that makes them happy right now is soccer," he said.

With files from Nelly Gonzalez