The “I Speak Football” program in Dandenong – in Melbourne’s east – is removing language as a barrier to friendship.
The program allows Australian teens, migrants and refugees to bond over a common love of the game and youth facilitator at the project, Malesh Jada-EileEnglish, said English wasn’t a prerequisite.
“It doesn’t matter what country you’re from or what language you speak. You put a football on a park and let kids play with it, they all speak the same language that’s why we call this program ‘I Speak Footbal’.”
It’s a youth-led initiative, stemming from the Centre for Multicultural Youth. Over six months, 100 teens from various backgrounds will participate in weekly sessions to develop football and life skills.
“It’s designed to address social isolation, through social cohesion,” said project officer Rei Kori. “We want to bring young people through football so they can learn about each other, play together, address stereotypes and racism as well.”
Participant Caroline Porublev said for her, the program had spurred on her love of the game and also facilitated friendships that otherwise would never have happened.
“We want to bring young people through football so they can learn about each other, play together, address stereotypes and racism as well.”
“If I didn’t come to this program I don’t think I would’ve met them on the streets I wouldn’t have met them in the supermarket or anything. So it’s really good,” she said.
The “I Speak Football” project has also attracted international support.
It received funding from the City Football Group, which includes A-League club Melbourne City as well international clubs Manchester City and New York City.
“I think they’re excited to be part of a global initiative and that’s what the power of football can do is to be able to support communities to address different social problems beyond the football,” said project officer Rei Kori.
And some are setting the bar high. Participant Nasir Ali said for him this was just the beginning.
“Well to be a professional soccer player at EPL. I’m hoping one I play for European League that’s my dream,” he said.
Participants will showcase their skills in the I Speak Football Cup at the end of the year.