For some Sundays now you can find me, after church, on the soccer field. There is a group of nearly 30 young men and adults who were forced to leave their home country. They are refugees from Syria, who found shelter in our town, as many do whole over Europe and North America.
In January, I met a small group of them, and they told me it was so hard to integrate in my home town. When they wished good day to the neighbors, they did not get any response in return. When they shared cards with new year’s greetings, they did not receive any card in return. The people from the community want them to integrate. They want to get something in return for the hospitality offered and the expenses made. But they do not make it easy for them. At least not all of them.
The main hurdle to participate with the local community is the language and the understanding of our culture. So, we started to look for activities the language was not that important and there would still be a common place to work, to play and to meet each other. And as there were only men participating, the answer was … let’s play soccer.
The charity foundation I run organized a soccer field managed by one of the soccer teams in our town. We agreed to use the field and facility’s every Sunday afternoon, for three weeks in a row. We had to pay, to avoid inequality with the other members of the facilities. The regular visitors of the soccer club already asked a lot of questions about the new users of the fields. It was important to avoid any feeling of discrimination.
Church sponsored the games
It did not take me long to convince my Church to sponsor the use of the soccer field. I am very grateful and started to think on how to repay them.
This Sunday the regional newspaper came to take pictures and to write an article. Because it’s very important to have the right publicity about the refugees and guests in our community I invested a lot of time upfront to make it work. I asked the board of the soccer team to join the interview to explain their position, I invited some people to watch the game and organized the press contact.
This afternoon the press was on the soccer field and they shot a lot of pictures of the men from Syria. It was nice to see the refugees talking Dutch during the interview, with a little help from their kids who are much more fluent in the language. The board members of the soccer club shared their frustration about the limited freedom the refugees had to do work, paid or on a voluntary basis. They had many difficult talks with the city council to work with the refugees. But the good thing was they all agreed this opportunity to play soccer and learn Dutch was the right step towards participation in the local community.
No Mother’s day this year
After the game, I had an idea on how they could do a return favor to the church. Next week in The Netherlands it’s Mother’s Day. I would ask them, or their wives, to bake cookies for the church. But first I had to tell them about how special next week Sunday was. I told them about Mother’s Day. But I was surprised by their response. The expressions on their faces changed. The happiness was gone, Mother’s Day? My mother is back in Syria, where every day the regime drops bombs. I understood to integrate is less easy as it seems. I decided to think of another way to do a favor in return. Mother’s Day is not a day to celebrate for everybody this year.