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More than a beautiful game, soccer brings communities together

Soccer gurus: Nelson Kimaru, Keria Nuru and Aida Ibrahim at the Skill Up graduation held at Australian Catholic University’s Brisbane campus.

NELSON Kimaru is a soccer guru.

He played it where he was born in Tanzania, where he was schooled in Kenya and where he now lives in Brisbane.

In Kenya, he was selected for the national soccer competition.

When he came to Brisbane, he was looking for a way to play again.

Nelson signed up for Kicking Goals Together – an eight-team soccer competition and employment skills program led by Australian Catholic University’s Brisbane campus and Multicultural Australia.

It has helped more than his dribbling and kicking. 

“When I’m in a group of friends, I don’t want to talk because I feel like if I talk like this … they will ask, ‘Why is this guy talking?’” Nelson said. 

“So I don’t want to express my feelings with them. 

“But playing (soccer) together … joining this Skill Up, I got a lot of development and courage.

“I meet different people who I didn’t even imagine I could meet. 

“So I … have that skill of being (courageous), talking to everyone now.

“(I) meet someone for the first time and have a quick chat, or chat with them for a long time.”

This season finished with the Allied Health All-Stars defeating Rohingya United 8-6 in the grand final, clinching their first grand final win, and the Skill Up participants graduating in two days of back-to-back celebrations on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 22 and 23. 

The graduation hosted a networking event where Skill Up participants could mingle with local businesses like Bunnings Warehouse and Centacare.

Keria Nuru was a participant in Skill Up.

Her dad was a soccer coach in Africa and she used to play soccer when she was young growing up in Ethiopia.

While the women in the program don’t have enough teams for a competition of their own, they train to develop their soccer skills and get educated on employment skills.

“I met new people and I (have) that information – how to get a job and how to have fun with people,” Keria said.

“(I learned) much about communication with others.”

Another young woman in the program, Aida Ibrahim said she found out about the program through her friends.

Aida feels more confident about what she needed to get into the workplace.

“Put a football in front of 10 people and tell them to pick teams, and a game will happen,” Kicking Goals Together co-ordinator and Australian Catholic University lecturer Dan Vandenhoek said.

“You probably don’t even need to tell them to pick teams – just put a ball out, some goals and a game will happen.”

While the game was simple, organising a full competition was more involved.

It started in 2016 when a group of Rohingya footballers approached ACU through an existing community program and said they had started a team but were hitting barriers to participation.

“The typical soccer competitions in Brisbane weren’t working for them due to transport costs and other barriers,” competition founder Matthew Pink said.

“They also wanted their football team to be a vehicle for celebrating their own cultural identity.”

After partnering with MA, ACU was able to host a soccer competition on its playing fields.

Nelson said he learned a lot in the program.

He said in Africa, people could return to high school at any age to learn what they needed to learn, but in Australia, education was restricted by age.

“So if you’re over 18, you’re not allowed to go to high school or primary, you have to seek another way to go,” he said.

He had to go to TAFE but that was not ideal.

“It’s not what I expected,” he said.

He faced challenges every day.

“You’re in a new country, new people, new things, so you have to be able to stand by yourself,” he said.

But by making friends and professional connections through soccer and Skill Up, Nelson didn’t have to stand alone anymore.

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