Story by Sarah Moore

Part of KidSport Nova Scotia is helping families who are new to Canada access sport. To do that, partnerships with Immigration Services of Nova Scotia (ISANS) and certain Halifax soccer clubs have been important.

The partnership with ISANS evolved in 2016, when Halifax was getting ready for the first wave of Syrian refugees. Sport, is universal, and something that can help new families assimilate into their communities. Kids have the opportunity to participate in sports that they might have played back home in the country they emigrated from, and they have the opportunity to try new activities too. And as the kids are engaged in sports, it helps ease the transition for parents as well.

“They can feel happy and proud and more at ease that their kids are participating and successfully and finding things that they’re good at and able to participate in,” says Lani Poce, the Community Connections Coordinator at ISANS.

Sports programs also offer a social aspect: newcomer parents can mingle with other parents and have conversations in a casual environment. Those connections with new people and organizations help new families gain an understanding of their community.
“If they know where their recreation centres are, or where the soccer fields are, or where all these different activities or things that are going on within their community, it gives them more confidence to navigate the city a little bit more,” says Poce.

Funding from KidSport helps families afford the costs of registration fees.

“Without it [funding], most of the families I work with wouldn’t be able to be involved, so we’re very thankful,” says Poce. “I love getting kids involved in the sport they want to participate in, seeing their faces light up when they’re told ‘yep, you can do gymnastics, or soccer, or karate.'”

Working at ISANS, she helps families who are new to Canada apply for funding and register in programs, as language barriers and computer literacy skills can make those processes challenging.

Another barrier to sport, Poce says, can be location. If sports aren’t in the community—for example, if soccer games are scheduled outside of the HRM or on fields that aren’t accessible by bus—then transportation becomes challenging for many immigrant families.
To that end, KidSport has worked closely with Halifax Dunbrack and Halifax City Soccer to ensure their registration fees can be covered by KidSport funding during a family’s first year. Having these programs exist within the communities where families reside helps to alleviates the travel barrier and KidSport removes the financial barrier as well. Soccer is one of the most popular sports that newcomers want to play, and the two clubs are in communities where lots of immigrant families tend to settle.

“It’s a common language, so everybody understands and loves soccer,” says Adrian Oncel. He’s a member of the board of Halifax Dunbrack, which is in the Clayton Park area. Oncel also coaches a high performance U15 boys team.

Funding from KidSport has been important for Halifax Dunbrack, he says, because about 20-30% of its members are newcomers and some of them need help covering registration fees.

Ethnic diversity is “one of the pillars of our club,” and it extends beyond players: himself an immigrant, having come to Canada from Romania in 2005, Oncel says many of the coaches are from all over the world—Europe, South America, Africa.

Getting to coach kids who are new to the country is part of his way of giving back.

“The culture difference can be challenging initially, but then it fades away,” he says. “The kids are quick learners.”

If there are language barriers, for instance, often kids will translate for each other.

In the summer of 2019, Halifax Dunbrack started a program dedicated to just newcomers. The winter session, which ran for six weeks, ended in mid-December. With a fee of $50 per kid, it was more feasible for families to participate.

“It gives them a taste of soccer in Canada and gives them exposure to clubs and policies,” says Oncel.

There is also space in the program for parents, if they want to become coaches, to get training and mentorships to get started.
Partnering with KidSport for funding and creating programs for newcomer families to experience sport is important part of Halifax Dunbrack, says Oncel, because “these programs are basically the backbone of the communities we’re around.”