Step With Refugees: Creating a More Inclusive World
As our world continues to struggle with a global health pandemic and collectively raise our voices to protest racism, the plight of REFUGEES, some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens, must not be forgotten.
In recognition of WORLD REFUGEE DAY ON JUNE 20TH, we bring you the stories of two former refugees – incredible individuals who have overcome hardship and prejudice, and now serve as inspirational role models who are making a difference in their lives and the lives of others. While their stories are unique, they are united in their belief in the power of sport and their connection to SPORT FOR HUMANITY.
Gerald Mballe – Former Refugee & SSH Young Leader
Five years ago, 17 year old Gerald Mballe was forced to flee the violence of Boko Haram in his home country of Cameroon. He embarked on a harrowing journey north that exposed him to horrors most of us cannot even imagine. But his belief in the promise of a better life, and his faith in God, drove him across Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and into Italy – a country where he did not speak the language, did not know the customs, and drew attention from others because of his skin colour. Yet Gerald found love and acceptance through sport when he became a volunteer with the Special Olympics, coaching football, a game that he had loved since childhood.
“We played together and, through that, we communicated without really knowing how. Without speaking a common language, we were able to communicate just because the connection that sport creates is genuine, real and strong. A simple game brought us together without making any distinction. Through sport I was included as one of them. Through sport I regained my self-esteem and self-confidence, lost during my journey and my initial stay in Italy.”
Gerald is now thriving and pursuing his university studies in political science and international relations. Gerald also volunteers with the Italian Red Cross working as a cultural mediator.
Most recently, Gerald was deployed by the Italian Red Cross to rescue refugees off a Covid-19 quarantined ship. Gerald’s commitment to giving back and creating positive social change is a reminder to us all of the difference that just one person’s actions can make to the world.
“I truly hope that I’ll pass my message of tolerance, acceptance, love, sport values and principles to as many people as possible. There is a full world to mend… and we should join hands and hearts to mend it together.”
For more about Gerald’s incredible journey, click here.
Khalida Popal – Former Refugee & SSH Young Leader
The capacity of sport to lift us up and create connections for those seeking a better life is a story also told by Khalida Popal, a refugee from Afghanistan now living in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Like Gerald, Khalida’s love for sport began at a very young age, learning football from her mother. Even as a teenager, Khalida recognized the intrinsic value of sport to give hope and confidence, especially for girls growing up in her community. She began organizing secret football games, which led to the establishment of the Afghan Women’s Football League and the Afghanistan Women’s National Football Team, of which Khalida became Captain. In this role, Khalida was instrumental in fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
As the Taliban began taking over areas around Khalida’s hometown of Kabul and restricting women’s rights, it became increasingly dangerous for Khalida to play football or participate in any sport. At age 24, facing death threats resulting from her women’s rights activism efforts, she was forced to flee, first to India, then Norway, before finally seeking asylum in Denmark, where she now lives.
“My problem was not just the Taliban with the gun, it was also the Taliban in the suit and tie … people with the mentality of the Taliban, who are against women and their voices.”
In 2014, Khalida began working with girls and women in refugee centers in Denmark, using sport as a tool to empower and heal. Her work in the refugee camps led to the founding of Girl Power, a nonprofit organisation that provides education and sport activities for women in refugee communities. Based in Denmark, Girl Power operates around the EU offering sporting activities (football, swimming, running, Zumba), as well as, workshops on women empowerment, health awareness and career development.
“When I ended up in Denmark as a refugee woman, I felt there was a need in the society … to help women in asylum centres, refugee and immigrant communities. They are living in isolated communities, where there is no bridge between refugees and citizens of the country. So once again, I used the power of sports to help women decrease their stress and depression, help them to get integrated and be part of the society.”
Khalida is also an ambassador for Street Child World Cup, an organization that creates opportunities for children living in poverty to come together and play in organized games prior to major world sporting events. In 2017, her hard work and dedication to this organization earned her a Champion of the Year award from Peace and Sport.
Khalida now works at FC Nordsjælland Danish Premier League Club, Women’s Football Department. She also speaks at various seminars and workshops such as UN Women, FIFA, and the World Football Summit. Most recently, Khalida was named among the Top 50 most powerful influencers by France Football magazine.
World Refugee Day
Every minute 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. (Source: un.org)
On Saturday, June 20th, SPORT FOR HUMANITY will join people from around the world in taking action on World Refugee Day. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we do not forget about the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, a number that sadly, continues to grow every day. The challenges that refugees face on a daily basis are only further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Covid-19 has further exposed their vulnerabilities, it has weakened even more their ability to cope with difficult situations and stripped away the residual hope they had of a better future.” – Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
In honour of World Refugee Day, we challenge you to join us in supporting the UNHCR #StepWithRefugees campaign.
To learn more or to sign up, visit:
The Road Ahead
“As we look ahead to a slow and arduous recovery from the pandemic, the risk is that an even worse virus may strike us: that of a selfish indifference that forgets those who are left behind.” – Pope Francis
Gerald and Khalida personify the Six Principles – Compassion, Respect, Love, Enlightenment, Balance and Joy and the Three Pillars of Inspiration, Inclusion and Involvement – the foundation upon which Sport at the Service of Humanity is built on. Through their courage, determination and love for humanity, we are reminded of the importance of thinking beyond ourselves and focus on the well-being of others.
We are also reminded of the importance of showing our compassion to the refugees who seek sanctuary in our communities. Acceptance comes from understanding that refugees did not leave their countries because they wanted to – they had to leave their homes because they had no other option – it was a matter of life and death.
As we navigate this “new normal” world, we must hold tight to the lessons that this pandemic has taught us – that we are better when we look out for one another. Both Gerald and Khalida’s stories show us that if given the opportunity and support, refugees could thrive and become positive, contributing members of society.
Sport for Humanity is honoured to have had the opportunity to help guide Gerald and Khalida, through their involvement in the Young Leaders Mentoring Program and to have been a part of their journey. We thank their mentors, Rabbi Carlos Tapiero and Maria Valles, for their guidance. Importantly, we thank our Global Patron, Dr. Haruhisa Handa, whose generous support made the Sport for Humanity Young Leaders Mentoring Program presented by ISPS HANDA, possible.