When Jean-Claude Munyezamu founded Umoja Community Mosaic — formally named Soccer Without Boundaries — he wanted to find a way to invest in children and grow community for newcomers to Canada.
He decided soccer was the best way to do just that.
The non-profit organization has worked to build belonging for immigrant children by giving them the opportunity to participate in sport and support them in achieving success in whatever way they define it.
“What was a sport actually became an opening of doors for those youth — where the kids feel that they belong to a larger community, not to just that little neighbourhood in public housing,” said Munyezamu, the organization’s founder and the executive director.
Looking at Canada’s FIFA 2022 World Cup team, it is clear the profound impact that a sport like soccer can have at connecting people from all different backgrounds and walks of life.
“Soccer is an international language, you don’t need to speak English, it’s played all over the world,” said Munyezamu. “When you bring something that people have in common, like soccer [it unites] those people. It doesn’t matter where you come from.”
Whether it’s a soccer ball or a hockey stick, sport has a unique ability to connect and unite individuals around the world.
For the first time in 36 years, Canada has secured itself a spot in the global soccer tournament, which sees 32 teams compete for ultimate football glory. With 26 men making up our roster, a consistent theme of the importance of citizenship and immigration has come to light.
More than half the members of our national team are either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants –– even coach John Herdman is originally from England.
Is this really a surprise though? According to Statistics Canada, 23 per cent of Canadians are immigrants, the highest perfentage in more than 150 years. And many of those newcomers are coming from soccer-mad countries.
Kejd Marika moved to Canada from Albania and joined a soccer team when he was a child, taking after his dad who also played. Though Marika played soccer growing up and came from a family who always had a match on at home, it was different when it came to the sport he played and the sport all his friends born here played and enjoyed — hockey.
“When I was younger I played soccer, but I watched hockey, I didn’t watch much soccer on TV. I think it was just because my friends watched it” said Marika. “But as I got older, I started to watch more and more soccer.”
Despite the balancing act, Marika made friends and found a community that he could play and connect with.
Finding connection and community are two important things for any person moving to a new country.
Munyezamu hopes team Canada reminds people how important immigration is to our country. As well he hopes that Canada will be the team full of surprises and inspiratio.
“This is wonderful to the soccer community and this is wonderful to Canada because those kids who are in Qatar, they are representing this nation.”