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Helping refugee teens settle into Kiwi life


Sport and youth activities so many of us enjoyed as young adults are now helping the teenage young people of former refugees settle into Kiwi life.

Fifty per cent of refugees who come to New Zealand are under 24 and they may have spent years in refugee camps with their lives on hold.

In New Zealand, some of these teens are enjoying the benefits of sports and youth groups that are often taken for granted by many of us when we were the same age.

It’s being made possible by Ignite Sport, a Lower Hutt-based charitable trust set up to use sport to inspire and create opportunities for participants to reach their full potentials in life.

Ignite Sport specialises in youth development and sports academy programmes. But it was a request from Refugee Services Hamilton (now part of Red Cross) that led to the creation, in 2010, of the three-day Fusion programme for teens from former refugee families in the Hutt Valley, Wellington, Porirua and Palmerston North.

Following its success, Ignite Sport set up Fusion Plus, an ongoing group for about 20 Hutt Valley youth two years ago.

Facing many challenges

Fifty per cent of refugees who come to New Zealand are under 24 and their children, when resettling in this country, face many challenges, including language, a new culture, education and social isolation.

Ignite Sport has a wide range of ethnicities on its Fusion programme database, including teens from Colombia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Congo, Syria and Bhutan.

Making new friends and growing in self-confidence are among the changes taking place in their lives. Their contact with other young people creates a community they can feel part of.

They are also empowered to make use of locally-available resources and to pursue their goals and dreams.

The teenage years are challenging enough without the added factor of a new country, a different culture and, often, a new language to master.

Some challenges for the teens are learning or improving their English, integrating into school, understanding Kiwi culture and how to fit in.

If they are still mastering English, many have to stay on at school to achieve the NCEA credits they need for paid work or tertiary studies.

Need for more recreational opportunities

Ignite Sport Co-ordinator, Kevin Goldsbury, says the community and, especially, churches, are good at welcoming and supporting new refugees. They settle in their new communities but often there are few support and recreational opportunities for their youth.

Fusion Co-ordinator, Nicola Fleming, says some of the youth may have spent years in a “holding pattern” of life in a refugee camp.

Standing by this photo wall of every group Ignite Sport has worked with are, from left, staff members, Manan Acharya, Nicola Fleming and Kevin Goldsbury.

She says that at Ignite Sport the focus is on a safe, family-like environment where they learn it is OK to have their own culture and to share it. It also gives them more opportunities to build their English and do sport (a great equaliser), sometimes with an existing club.

The overall aim is to grow in themselves and in self-confidence.

Sense of safety affected

Nicola says the Christchurch tragedy has impacted on their youth, especially those who have come to New Zealand to escape violence.

“Their real sense of safety took a big knock. Especially as it happened in places of worship, something which offended many Kiwis too,“ she says.

Fusion Plus Co-ordinator, Manan Acharya, says their Sri Lankan youth have been particularly affected by the recent attacks on churches in Sri Lanka.

Nicola says it is time to return to “old school” activities of being kind to people and getting to know new neighbours.

“There is also a growing sense of giving back,” she says.

Nicola says supporting or volunteering to help organisations, such as Ignite Sport, is also a practical way of offering help.


Manan says the greatest changes he has seen is participants becoming more confident, becoming part of a community of others in similar situations and starting to focus on their goals and dreams.

Fusion has plenty of testimonials from participants.

“I got better at communicating with others and I learnt more about other people’s culture and I learnt to respect it more. I made more friends,” said a young woman, aged 16, from Syria.

A young man, aged 19, from Colombia in South America had this to say: “I have learnt that teamwork and learning about others is very important in a friendly environment where people share their ideas. You learn to listen and respect what they are saying and learn to respect their culture in a different way as they respect ours. Learnt to interact with people, not to judge others and talk to them to make them feel comfortable and welcomed.”

“I learnt everyone is unique in their own ways. I love this programme. I want to come to Ignite Sports every day,” said an 11-year-old young woman from Sri Lanka.

A  growing need 

Kevin Goldsbury says that across all youth the need is greater than ever for providing activities.

He says past generations took part in YMCA, YWCA, church groups, sport, Scouts, Guides, and the like, for a social life and friendship outside of work and study.

“The important thing now is to provide opportunity for growing relationships and community for young people,” Kevin says.

He says the lack of this can lead to young people making poor choices.

What motivates Kevin most is that young people involved in the Ignite Sport programme will have caring adults who will spend time with them, being positive role models and influencing their decisions and future.

If we can make a change for a good number of our young people it is worth our investment,” he says.

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For more information:

To go to the Ignite Sport website click here


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