Friendship games

Wednesday 13, November 2013 HUMENNE, Slovakia, November 13 (UNHCR) – When refugees arrive in a new home, they sometimes share little in common with their neighbors. But last October, ten Somali boys residing in the UNHCR co-sponsored Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Humenné, Slovakia, and the student body of Koskovce […]

Wednesday 13, November 2013

HUMENNE, Slovakia, November 13 (UNHCR) – When refugees arrive in a new home, they sometimes share little in common with their neighbors.

But last October, ten Somali boys residing in the UNHCR co-sponsored Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Humenné, Slovakia, and the student body of Koskovce Primary School, proved there is no better language than football.

And friendship.

On October 18, the Somali ETC Team took part in the 4th annual Director’s Challenge Cup football tournament, and kicked off against squads from schools in the towns of Koskovce, Ohradzany, and Kamenica nad Cirochou. 

The event was organized by Ladislav Ferenc, involved in ethnic-Roma education at the Koskovce Primary School, as a forum to improve understanding between ethnic groups.

The common ethnicities in the region include Slovakians, Hungarians, Czechs, and Roma.

But according to Ferenc, the October games were special: “For these kids, it was their first time meeting and having personal contact with Africans.”

The Somali team was coached by football enthusiast and ETC social worker Michal Parnica, who worked with the boys for weeks ahead of the tournament. 

They trained so hard, one of the boys was certain that they would dominate the games, held in the school’s gymnasium. The Somalis lack of experience with indoor football, which limits teams to four forwards players and a goalkeeper, may have contributed to their losses in the first two games.

But the Somali boys, who ranged in age between 12 and 16 years, rallied in the last game, and defeated their hosts, Koskovce, 13 – 3.

The victory gave the ETC boys third-place medals. But organizers say the children really took away lasting memories, a keener understanding of the cultural diversity that makes up the world, and a respect for each other’s abilities.

“We thought we would be first,” admitted one of the ETC boys, “but third place is good too.” 

The tournament also received support from Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE.)

by Gabriela Dunajčíková in Humenné, Slovakia