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Breaking down Cultural Barriers in Australia through Football

Football Source: SBS

Football United belongs to an international network of NGOs using football as a vehicle for social change.

A drop-in football program for refugee children is healing old wounds and illuminating new paths forward.

Football United held its biggest ever gala day in Western Sydney to celebrate 10 years of work in disadvantaged communities.

A group of Year 9 students from Fairfield High School are lacing up their boots and preparing to play the world game.

They're among around 200 students from over 15 schools who are participating in the Football United gala day in Western Sydney.

But before football, the Haka?

The boys, all wearing shin pads and football boots are led in a variation of a haka by a Football United volunteer who happens to hail from Samoa.

The volunteers explain that's what Football United is all about - breaking down cultural barriers.

Football United belongs to an international network of NGOs using football as a vehicle for social change.

Many of the school children at this event come from some of the world's most troubled regions.

"I was born in Uganda." / "Iraq." / "From Palestine." / "I'm from Afghanistan."

And that's just a small sample of where these students come from.

Others were born in Syria, Sudan, Myanmar, to name just a few.

There's a sense of pride in where they come from but also a desire to set that aside, to play, to mingle and to learn. 

"Come out, meet new people."

"I like playing in a team, like team work."

"We meet people from different countries and different cultures."

"Football brought the happiness out of us."

Al Hassan Dauda is a refugee from Guinea who joined Football United when he was 12.

Back then, he spoke several languages but was yet to learn English.

"I could speak French and I could speak other languages other than English. So the language was a big issue at the beginning. The only way you could get to people, the only way you could communicate is through a common language."

And that common language was football.

"Noor is going to go in goals. Treen you're going in the middle...."

Many of the youngsters are still adapting to a new life in a new country.

Al Hassan - now studying health sciences at Sydney University - is a role model and knows how they feel.

"Because some of them are trying to link between two identities, sort of like an identity crisis. And some feel left out and others are just trying to fit in."

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Football United.

Dr Anne Bunde-Birouste helped found the initiative and says in that time over 6,000 have come out to play and speak the language of football.

"One of the things I would love is people who are decision makers, come and do what you're doing and spend a day with us and get to know these kids. And they're wonderful. The more we can offer them and the more we can engage with them, the better off we're all going to be."

Dr Bunde-Birouste says the long-term goal for Football United is to one day host an official FIFA Football for Hope festival in Australia, to help today's champions become tomorrow's role models.

"Maybe some of your listeners will want to help us do it."