THE GREEN LINE
ORIGINAL STORY

REFUGEES HAVE A SHOT AT ADJUSTING TO LIFE IN TORONTO THANKS TO WEXFORD SOCCER GROUP

The Green Line team spoke with Scarborough Simbas to learn how the free soccer program is easing the settlement journey for newcomers.

Mohazzama Muhtaj, program director of Scarborough Simbas, stands on the soccer field at Terraview Park in Wexford.

Mohazzama Muhtaj, program director of Scarborough Simbas, stands on the soccer field at Terraview Park in Wexford.
📸: Amanda Seraphina/The Green Line.

Aneesa Bhanji BW

ANEESA BHANJI

Currently a journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University who's also studying communication and design. Grew up in Vaughan, now living in downtown Toronto. Always loves a good chai latte.

Amanda Seraphina James Rajakumar BW

AMANDA SERAPHINA JAMES RAJAKUMAR

Indian immigrant with a post-grad in journalism from Centennial College. Now living in Grange Park, meeting new people, and hearing different stories. Has four names, so it’s a pick-your-player situation.

June 28, 2024

Immigrating to Canada comes with many challenges, so one soccer group in the Scarborough suburb of Wexford is helping make the move to Toronto a little easier for refugees and other newcomers.

"The area that we're in, we have a lot of families, refugees and newcomers who have settled here. Some are very recent refugees and newcomers, some have come five to 10 years ago. But it's a very populated area and not enough programs," explains Mohazzama Muhtaj, program director and manager of the Scarborough Simbas.

"There's amazing soccer clubs in the area. However, none of them are free of cost. We want to bridge that gap that exists and create these opportunities for the kids to feel welcome and have access to football, which is an amazing universal sport."

Mohazzama Muhtaj coaches soccer to local newcomer kids in Wexford.

Mohazzama Muhtaj coaches soccer to local newcomer kids in Wexford.
📸: Amanda Seraphina/The Green Line.

Muhtaj adds that the Simbas program goes beyond just kicking a ball on the soccer field. She says their goal is to make newcomer kids feel welcome in an unfamiliar environment, while also helping them develop their social skills.

Simbas is run by Muslim Children's Aid and Support Services. Local kids have been participating in the free program every summer since 2020. The team started with 20 to 30 participants, but it's now grown to 200, according to Muhtaj.

Co-founder Karen Scott says the program gives children a sense of belonging and acceptance in a team and in the community.

"It gives the children and youth a chance to make new friends, feel welcome – feel as though they are in a safe environment because they are and really a chance to find themselves again,” Scott says. “To rebuild their identity and who they are and a sense of resilience.”

“We all want that sense of belonging, but even more so when everything that we've known in life is left behind.”

Elesar Aljawabrih, Scarborough Simbas participant, plays soccer at Terraview Park.

Elesar Aljawabrih, Scarborough Simbas participant, plays soccer at Terraview Park.
📸: Amanda Seraphina/The Green Line.

Elesar Aljawabrih, 11, came to Canada from Syria by way of Jordan in 2016. She's played with the Simbas for four years.

“When I play soccer, it makes me feel happy and motivated," Aljawabrih says. "My coaches motivate me because when I do something wrong, they tell me to try and try again.”

Graphic showing the amount of newcomers who felt sports helped them learn about Canadian culture, according to the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

Graphic showing the percentage of newcomers who felt sports helped them learn about Canadian culture, according to the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.
📸: Paul Zwambag for The Green Line.

A 2014 study by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship suggests 69 per cent of newcomers feel that sports helped them learn about Canadian culture during their first three years here. 

Mariam Omayan, Aljawabrih’s mother, has found her own sense of community with the Simbas.

Mariam Omayan, Aljawabrih’s mom, stands in the soccer field at Terraview Park.

Mariam Omayan, Aljawabrih’s mom, stands in the soccer field at Terraview Park.
📸: Amanda Seraphina/The Green Line.

“When I came here, I [didn't] have any friends. I [didn’t] know anyone here and my kids, too – they [didn’t] know anyone,” Omayan says. I found the program and I came here for the first time. I feel like safe and comfortable. I found a big family here.”

Fact-Check Yourself

Sources and
further reading

Don't take our word for it —
check our sources for yourself.

Muslim Children’s Aid and Support Services