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  • Writer's pictureChris Thomas


12 nations. 12 languages. 35 players. One ball. One Language. One Humanity!

A “Mandela” moment for the Football Freedom Project, Bangor University and North Wales Dragons, as participants from diverse backgrounds, including Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Wales and England engaged in a one-day activity hosted by Bangor University and North Wales Dragons who gave an inspiring introduction to the breadth and depth of the Welsh culture while offering a mindfulness escape and football.

The inception of the Football Freedom Project took place during the challenging times of COVID-19 lockdowns when mental health issues, financial hardships, isolation, and overwhelming uncertainty were prevalent, but their traumas from harrowing lived experiences intensified this. In collaboration with refugees and people seeking asylum at RAPAR, we carefully designed the project with a collective agreement that football could effectively address the needs of their community. Thanks to funding from Sport England through Greater Sport and the Manchester FA, the project has continued to uplift the community through various activities up to the present day.

Rahwa, one of the leaders of the Football Freedom Project, expressed her gratitude, saying...

“This trip has been a dream come true. When we started the Football Freedom Project two years ago, we never imagined that something like this could happen. This day was especially remarkable as we had the opportunity to travel and visit Wales and celebrate Refugee Week in grand style. For most of our members, this visit to Wales is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am immensely pleased that we were able to make it happen. When we work together collaboratively, there is no limit to what we can achieve. A special thank you goes to Chris Roberts from the North Wales Dragons for his unwavering efforts in making this extraordinary day possible for us.”

Although playing football and being together was a win-win situation for us all, we were inspired to travel to a new place in the UK. Visiting the culturally rich and breathtaking landscapes of North Wales has been a longstanding wish for the group ever since Chris Roberts, co-founder of the North Wales Dragons, visited us in Greater Manchester with his community football team. We realised how powerful football is in building networks and opportunities and promoting sportsmanship, friendship, and great admiration among nations and diverse peoples, cultures and faiths.

Everyone who joined the cultural exchange had so much to say and the impact it personally had on them:

Huda and her family from Saudi Arabia shared their heartfelt gratitude, stating, "Our family genuinely cherish the comfort and happiness we experience when we engage in football. We are immensely grateful for your assistance. This beautiful and meaningful activity has had a positive impact on us. We love football. We would also like to extend our gratitude to Ibrahim and Rahwa; they are truly exceptional individuals who consistently support us. Thank you very much."

Jila and her friends from Iran expressed their gratitude by saying, "A big thanks for organising this event and for the warm hospitality shown to us by the kind people of Bangor. We are grateful to the University of Bangor and the Football Freedom Project. Our enjoyment during this trip was unparalleled." Mahin added that “the trip was incredibly interesting. Thank you so much. I hope we will have the opportunity to embark on such a journey again. Please consider it." Jila continued to share her experience, saying, “The nature was amazing, one side sea, one side green farm with huge sheep and cows. The university, hospitality, and football grounds were memorable, and l learned about Bangor University, its culture, language, and history. I enjoyed it, and it changed my mood. I needed to go on a short trip.

The atmosphere was elevated with a captivating performance by Rose, whose soul-stirring voice and passion filled us with inspiration, uniting us in a celebration for lasting peace. Rose from Cameroon enthusiastically shared her sentiments, saying, "The trip was truly wonderful, and I enjoyed the experience of singing the gospel Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour!"

Wrapping up a well-coordinated collaboration, Chris Roberts added, "Friday’s event was an amazing opportunity to share cultural education and awareness and create a space for discussing educational and employment opportunities. It was a healing experience for many who found new friendships and partnerships. I truly believe that we succeeded in all our objectives."

This experience has broadened our horizons in view of endless possibilities and opportunities. This experience has made us realise the importance of community and friendship, and we will keep our community growing, extending our network and ensuring that the space we have created serves each other so that we can find ways to live a more peaceful life in our new home.

Join us, support us, and let’s do this together!

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