Canada News

Edmonton: Mayor Iveson celebrates soccer with Sierra Leonean kids

By  | 1 September 2014 at 22:08 | 4102 views

Children in the Sierra Leonean community in Edmonton, Canada, would remember this summer as they grow up. They had a rare chance to play soccer together twice a week, thanks to a promising program run by Born to Be Soccer Academy. Their moms and dads who watched them play, no doubt welcomed this initiative in organized sport. It was embraced as a healthy engagement during their kids’ summer break from schooling.

On Friday August 29, 2014 the children got a colourful, cowning treat at the Northmount Community Centre in Edmonton. Each child was awarded a medal for being active while having fun. The occasion marked the first anniversary of BTB as an organization.

The guest of honour was the mayor of the city of Edmonton, Mr. Don Iveson (seen in photo posing with a soccer family). Boys and girls, as young as five and no more than 12 years old, came all dressed up, accompanied by their parents. They were introduced to Mayor Iveson, each shaking hands with him, after the mayor formally addressed the gathering.

At the podium, Mayor Iverson congratulated BTB Academy on its milestone, praising co-founders, Kondeh Mansaray and his girlfriend Nyange Koineh, for their leadership in promoting sports among children. “It is especially heart-warming when more recent immigrants also take the initiative and continue to strengthen the community,” the mayor said. " Sport not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, it also makes the family and the community more productive," Mr. Iveson observed. "We look forward to many more celebrations like this."

Mayor Iveson also expressed delight at the city’s track record in hosting world class events like the quarter final match between Canada and Germany, in this year’s Under-20 FIFA world cup for women. As Edmonton seeks to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games in 2022, he took the opportunity to call on the Sierra Leone community here to help influence Sierra Leone’s national vote in favour of Edmonton’s bid.

During the BTB outdoor soccer season, parents heartily brought their young ones every Wednesday and Sunday and let its volunteers take charge of them. The sessions would start off with everyone doing routine stretches to warm up. Kondeh, Nyange, and other volunteers would then organize the children into various age groups, so that they enjoyed themselves as they played soccer in a safe and relaxed atmosphere.

Next, came different drills that were frequently paused for ‘water breaks,’ to ensure that the little athletes stayed hydrated. A few were clearly excited by drills like ‘the parachute,’ and ‘the ladder’. These were all done horizontally, of course, with the feet never leaving the ground. Others just took delight in tumbling and soaking in precious sunshine. It was tough enough reining them in for the jumps, runs, dribbles, and kicking of soccer balls. The venue was the fenced sports field of the Queen Elizabeth High School in Edmonton. Volunteers included two amateur coaches, Pios Ishiekwene and Ernest Kotio; Joshua Ayolade and his daughter Precious; Aminata Kanu; Joshua Ngimbi; and George Ishiekwene. Kondeh says he took a course in Physical Activity, just to prepare himself and guide other volunteers.

“Never mind the extra load of laundry, after each soccer day,” one parent confided “at least they get a good night’s sleep when the day is done.” Indeed many parents even brought food to the anniversary celebration. Younger community members also helped BTB volunteers in organizing the children when it was time to meet the mayor.

In opening Saturday’s showcase, Kondeh Mansaray spoke about how their organization believes “everyone is born to be somebody….” He said that is how they came up with the name Born to Be (BTB). “Our idea was to get every single kid active while they were on holidays,” he said. Kondeh being a well-respected young man, parents did not hesitate to register their children. Sport Central, an Edmonton charity funded by the furniture company The BRICK, provided free soccer balls, shoes and training equipment. Off the soccer pitch, BTB networked with parents and well-wishers in a series of fund raisers. Between June and August, BTB was able to hold a bottle drive for recyclable containers, a chocolate sale, and similar other kid-friendly ventures.

Among patrons at the celebration was the mayor’s chief of staff, Julianna Charchun; the president of the Sierra Leonean community Mr. Kemoh Mansaray; and Dr. Yanyu Zhou, program coordinator for Action for Healthy Communities. This Edmonton-based organization advised BTB on how to get sponsorship for the soccer program, according to Kondeh Mansaray. “They are helping us as we plan for indoor soccer in the winter, until summer comes again in 2015.”

Kondeh Mansaray guides the kids as they do warm-up stretches.

Nyange Koineh (in blue T-Shirt) practices ball control with the kids.