Refugee Week 2021: Football is the icebreaker in a new country

Refugee Week 2021 takes place from June 20-26, and this year's theme is unity. Football Australia is celebrating Refugee Week and our world game that unites us all. 

via Goal Click 

My name is Jonasi Eangano Singehebhuye, I am originally from Burundi; a small nation in east Africa. My family moved to Australia from Tanzania in pursuit of a better life in 2005. I am a football fanatic; I play it and watch it with great zeal. I have been playing football for over two decades. I support Chelsea FC and Melbourne Victory. I am also a coach and mentor.

Football was the binding factor and the ice breaker that facilitated my rapid assimilation into Australian culture. I arrived in Australian at the age of 6, and by then I was a solid footballer from back in Tanzania where I was born. I remember playing some amazing street football games back in Tanzania. But life in Tanzania was extremely difficult as it was not our home of origin. 

Football would come to prove to be one of the most important tools for my family's assimilation into the Australian culture. All 6 of my siblings played the beautiful game. Although we had some ugly experiences from those who did not look nor sound like us in our early years in the country, the game silenced the noise of those racists, bigots, and other discriminators. 

I plan to continue playing, coaching, and mentoring young players regarding life in and beyond football. I live for the community, so I plan to have a major role in the football community in terms of growing grassroots football. 

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What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

Most of the images are from the Victoria African Cup of Nations 2021 in early January. I intended to showcase the unity and progress brought about by football at a grassroots and community level within Victoria. They also intended to show the contribution and positive engagement of the African diaspora in Victoria. 

I took images of the Melburnian Burundi Football Team. I focused on the Burundi team, not just because it was the team that I played in, but also because it was the team that had outperformed three of the major teams in the competition leading to the semi-finals.  

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Why did you come to Australia?

Like most families, we moved to Australia in search for better life. My family is originally from Burundi, but we were forced to escape civil wars from multiple countries until they landed a decent life in Tanzania. It is in this beautiful nation that I would come to be born. Life in Tanzania was amazing socially, but that's where it ended for those who had escaped from other nations. It was tough to secure jobs, find a good education due to financial constraints, maintaining a healthy lifestyle was near impossible due to the lack of resources. 

This type of living clearly did not suit anyone; and it mostly did not please my father who was a surgical doctor with the Red Cross in the Army back home. My father worked hard to try and get us out of the conditions we were living in. By 2005 my family would migrate to the nation of Australia. It is in this nation that my desire to play professionally really began to look like a reality. This was despite football being the least favoured sport by most Australians in that time. My love and passion for the game made me blind to that.

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What do you remember about football in Tanzania?

It is the game that I played from morning to night. I cannot ever recall not playing this beautiful game. I was in love with its street format, there is nothing like a hyped street football game! My whole village would gather around one pitch in the evenings to watch 4 full games be played from around 4pm to 8pm. It was an incredible experience and atmosphere to be part of.

Do you play football now with any Australian people? How do you find the Australian people? 

I have played for some very high-level Croatian, Greek, Italian and Albanian teams here in Victoria. These teams have included a few Australians. 

All in all, Aussies are great, they can be very relaxed and inclusive. Which is such a joy. 

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Why is football important to you and your community? 

Football has literally been the binding piece for my mental health, for positive community engagement, an icebreaker in awkward situations, and a pathway for inter-community unity. And I can say the same concept is true for my community. 

Football has allowed me and so many others overcome so many of obstacles that usually come with the migration from one culture to another. The struggle of not having English as a spoken nor written language was extremely difficult! But one language that everyone that I interacted with understood was football. We didn't need English to communicate, we had football to communicate! Football therefore means the world me. And it deserves the title "the world game” because it's more than just a game, it's life.

What ambitions do you have for the future? 

For a very long time since my childhood, my future has always incorporated football. I feel like my chance to ever play at a professional level is no longer a reality, so I now want to coach and do some work in the sport medicine field. 

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