Faisal Cup offers refugee kids a safe space for sports
15 June 2023
A football field and proper sports equipment are often luxuries for refugee children.

KUALA LUMPUR: In 2006, among the millions of football fans swept up in the World Cup fever was a Rohingya teenager named Faisal.

The tall and bespectacled 16-year-old was a student at Dignity for Children Foundation, an NGO in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. It provides holistic care and education for the urban poor and marginalised children in the country.

One day, Faisal and his friends were walking along the Gombak River, kicking an old football. It was only about RM20, but it was the only ball they owned; so, when it fell into the river, Faisal immediately jumped in to retrieve it.

At first, he had fun splashing in the water. But then things went horribly wrong. He lost his glasses and couldn’t see. The disorientation must have been the primary reason why he drowned.

Faisal, who was raised in a squatter area, never had the opportunity to play football in a safe environment. His parents were unemployed and did not have the money to send him for training.

His death left the co-founders of Dignity, Elisha Satvinder and his wife, Petrina Shee, deeply saddened. That year, they started the Faisal Cup, an annual football tournament that aims to provide underprivileged children with a safe environment to play football.
Faisal (centre) drowned while trying to save an old RM20 football he cherished. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

Speaking with FMT Lifestyle, Jeremy Chin, Dignity’s sports project leader, said there were only three teams in the Faisal Cup tournament in its first year. But this year, over 1,500 players from 35 learning centres in the Klang Valley, Penang and Johor, are participating. Each team is composed of eight players.

Most of the players are refugees from Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Syria and Afghanistan.

Chin, who has coordinated the Faisal Cup for the past eight years, said there were also Malaysian players from the B40 income group for the first time this year.

He said the tournament was divided into six age categories, and was for both boys and girls. “We include everyone who wants to learn and play, especially those who are not very good at football. But you need to be a student. You cannot be a dropout.”

He said the Faisal Cup was about developing skills, techniques and character in all the students. “That is why we wanted them to commit to at least 10 to 15 sessions of football training by coaches.”

The players are also required to attend a Peace Camp. This was introduced when the organisers realised that the players, being from different parts of the world, had a lot of differences, resulting in rather intense games.
Jeremy Chin (in red) with coaches Hannah Mae Chin (on his right) and Thang Tul Kho (left). (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

The objective of the camp is to encourage players to “make friends with each other, break the racial barrier and understand and celebrate their differences”, Chin said. Activities include workshops about emotional regulation and sportsmanship.

“We want all the students and children like Faisal to be able to receive the same treatment, to be given the same opportunity to play,” he said. “We want to restore hope and dignity through sports.”

Among the players is Meen Thang, 16, from Myanmar. A football lover since young, she is loving every minute training for the Faisal Cup.

“I have never trained on a field before,” she said. “Everything was a first for me. I really enjoyed training with my friends, learning more about them and what improvements I need to make.”
Meen Thang first experienced playing on a football field after joining the Faisal Cup. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

It has also taught her about teamwork and tolerance. “I have learned how to be a better person.”

Azlan Pam, an Orang Asli from the Temiar tribe, has similar sentiments. The 13-year-old, who also used to play on the streets, has learned of the importance of teamwork and that no player can successfully score a goal without his teammates.

Myanmarese coach Thang Tul Kho, 19, said it was rewarding to see the excitement among his players. “Most refugee students don’t get a chance to play like this in a safe environment with proper equipment,” he said. He has played in the Faisal Cup himself.

Hannah Mae Chin, 25, who coaches the Under 12 boys’ team, loves her role. “There is no joy like seeing them score a goal or grow from being unable to play as a team to working together by the end of the season and showing a lot of sportsmanship,” she said.
Azlan Pam says he learnt the importance of teamwork when he participated in the Faisal Cup. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)
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About Dignity for Children

Join us in our mission to promote Dignity through sports and make a difference in the lives of children. Together, we can create a safe and inclusive environment where everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive.  Get involved today and be a part of a transformative journey.

About Dignity

Our work began in 1998 in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur with only 20 students then. Dignity is now a learning centre with more than 2,300 children ranging from 2-19 years old.
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