Interview

“Football gives hope”: Southern, All Black FC, and the Zesh Rehman Foundation

Football, always more than a mere game for millions of people, can empower, give hope and a sense of identity to those who love the beautiful game, especially those on the fringes of society. Southern District FC, with the assistance of their sponsors, Kwoon Chung Bus Holdings Ltd, have lead the way in Hong Kong with the community work they provide. Matthew Leung Pak-wong and the Southern patrons have sought to use football and the club as a vehicle for social change and hopefully others clubs will follow their example. The slogans “We the South”  and “We unite as One” are not merely empty words, as the club welcomes supporters from all backgrounds and seeks to give back to their local community and Hong Kong society as a whole.

Matthew Wong of Kwoon Chung Buses is keen for Southern to give back to society. Photo: KC Southern FC

One organization that Southern have become associated with are the All Blacks football team. The team was founded and run by Medard-Privat Koya and in the three years of its existence, has grown and developed into a fully fledged  functioning team. The All Blacks seek to empower refugees and members of ethnic minority communities on the margins of society by using football and sport as a way to express themselves and as a means to find an identity.  They also aim to reach out to Hong Kong society and to build cultural bridges by playing other teams, as well as by organizing workshops and trainings to improve social cohesion and intercultural understanding. In the past year, KC Southern have worked with All Black to raise their profile and in the coming 2019/2020 season, Southern will become fully associated with the All Blacks in an official capacity.

Members of the All Blacks supporting KC Southern at the recent FA Cup Final 2019. Photo: All Black FC

In an exclusive interview, both Zesh Rehman, captain of Southern and a Pakistan international, as well as Medard-Privat Koya, founder and manager of the All Blacks Football team, discussed how Southern and All Black would become officially affiliated with each other from this coming season onwards. KC Southern would help the All Blacks to achieve their goal in being a platform for social change as well as offer them training, so that the All Black players can become mentors themselves.

Rehman discussed the work that Southern have done in the community to give back to society, which includes encouraging children from all backgrounds to live a healthier lifestyle.

“This season, KC Southern have done a pilot project for the whole season with ‘AKA Social Services’ in Southern District. The role of the Zesh Rehman Foundation is to support it and advise the project, and the main aim is to immerse and integrate the local South Asian children into the Hong Kong way of life through football, sport, and education. The kids came to the five-a-side tournament and camp, different coaches helped out and it was quite a successful pilot programme. At the end of it, the kids started to mix together and became really good friends.”

KC Southern work with students in the community. Photos: KC Southern FC

Rehman is passionate about helping others and has done so at all his clubs and via his foundation. He hopes to build a well-meaning project with the help of his current club and give back to Hong Kong.

“For ten years or so in England, I always got involved in community projects and at all the clubs I was involved with. All these kids used to ask me questions about the clubs and the team I played for. In Hong Kong, I approached the club owners and the sponsors, and they were keen to do some community work as Kwoon Chung Bus company are very community-based and have a lot of core values for work in the community. So they are all for corporate social responsibility and are keen to support this project. They agreed to do this project and we have tested it out for one year and there will be an official launch next season.”

KC Southern players take the time to meet and train young children. Photo: KC Southern FC

Rehman highlighted some social issues, which he hoped his work with Southern could tackle and overcome. He realises that some youths need structure and discipline to be successful in both sport and life.

“One of the issues with the South Asian kids was with discipline in terms of diet and the lack of exercise. So the kids are now more aware that increased exercise is good for mental health and homework, and it is good for mixing with other children, so there are a lot of benefits for everyone that comes along. In the end, the parents of the Hong Kong kids and the South Asian kids all mix together to celebrate. So it is really powerful to reinforce what football can do to help others. I always give the kids advice and they come to three or four Southern games. They had pictures with the teams and had a full day out. They really enjoyed it and had time with the other players, so it was a good life experience for them.”

KC Southern District FC are keen to give back to the Community. Photo: KC Southern FC

Rehman also went onto talk about how Southern got involved with All Black FC, and said his colleague, Shay Spitz, helped to pave the way.

Shay Spitz and Medard-Privat Koya. Photo: Koya

“All Black FC was a separate project at the start and I got introduced to them via my team mate Shay Spitz, who got invited a year and a half ago to see them in Kowloon. So I went along and did a little bit of training and it was a really powerful experience for me. It left a big impression as being a professional footballer is very fortunate, but there are many people who need your help and it can make a difference through the football club.”

Thank you so much Shay Spitz for dominating all the football boots to us, it was really nice having you around and good luck with your football team (Southern FC) this season.多謝史必贊助足球鞋俾我地感謝你地嘅支持同希望你地球隊Southern FC繼續有更好嘅表現⚽️⚽️

All Black FC Hong Kong 發佈於 2017年9月27日星期三

Video: KC Southern player, Shay Spitz, donates his football boots to the All Blacks

Rehman was impressed by the All Blacks and decided to use his club as a means to help them further. This relationship has grown to the point that All Black FC will become official partners with KC Southern.

“We supported the All Blacks to come to the games and they brought their drums. We stayed in touch and we had a good meeting with Medard and the owners, and we are looking to raise an official programme to raise the awareness of issues that these people face and how football and society in Hong Kong can help.”

Medard-Privat Koya, the founder and manager of the All Blacks, kindly shared how the club was founded and why the All Blacks can give hope to so many.

“It was just a need to create a platform for this community living in Hong Kong. If you get to know about this community and their situation in Hong Kong, then it is quite difficult as it is quite hard as most of them cannot study and cannot work, and the situation is that they have to live and they find themselves in trouble and some find themselves in prison.”

Koya went on to say that a great sense of community was key to the success of the team, as many had found the purpose and sense of belonging they so sought.

“For some of the players, All Black FC has become a refuge and a place where they can have comfort, meet friends, and express themselves. So this platform and team is a place where they can have a second chance to be reborn again and to have a place where to establish and express themselves. Like Zesh said before, it can give people a place to connect with other people and to share, so this is one of the main reasons we created this platform and to bring about change in society, because many of them and many of us, called ethnic minorities, need to find a way to enter into Hong Kong society.”

Koya said the team was open to all and that football is a great leveler as it is beloved by people from all backgrounds.

“To us, football and sport is one of the tools which can help us connect together, and when we play football together, there is no black, there is no white, there is no Chinese. We are all sharing the same passion. This team has good potential, even if we do not have all the resources. We have very good players and we are trying to develop some young players in our team. There is a huge potential in contributing to the development of football in Hong Kong.”

Medard-Privat Koya, founder and manager of the All Blacks. Photo: All Black Facebook

“For the entire team, we are looking forward to the collaboration with Southern and since we started in 2016, Southern was one of the teams who really gave their support to us. They really appreciate what we do in Hong Kong and this really was a huge encouragement for us. We believe this cooperation with Southern and Kwoon Chung Bus company will be a good thing for the players, but will also bring about a big change in Hong Kong.”

“The All Blacks do need help and support and and most of our coaches are volunteers. I just quit my job, as I really believe in this project and we hope that we can have financial support to keep going. Most of our training is free of charge, but we need financial support to keep running, as we need to book pitches, we need the equipment and we need to support the coaches.”

Koya said that the formation of the team was not without issues, as players themselves came from a whole host of different backgrounds and spoke a diverse array of languages.

“When we started All Black FC, we knew it was going to be very difficult. Some of the players do not come from the same country. Even though most of them come from Africa, but they still have different backgrounds. It was already a big challenge for us to try and bring them all together. I believe we succeeded in this, and the next step was about how to give them more than football, but also how our team can have a social impact, so we can teach about values of respect and tolerance. These are some of the things that we tried to share with our players. That no matter what the challenges are in society, we have to stay positive.”

The All Blacks are now a regular fixture at KC Southern games. Photo: All Blacks FC

For Koya, All Black FC is  more than just a football team, as he hopes the players can also give back to their home and change perceptions and stereotypes of refugees.

“This is one of the things that we want to do. We want to bring about change. For instance, we inform our players that the team has a social responsibility. We need to serve the community. For example, last year, we visited one of the elderly centers for the old people. We went there and we even brought some drums for them. Some of them were pleasantly surprised, as they never had Africans visit them and never experienced them before. We also wanted them to know we were ‘good’ people and these people can contribute back to society. Some of things we hear are “Refugees only come and take the benefits from Hong Kong”, so when we hear that we try to change this way of thinking by doing the opposite of what people believe. Some people in Hong Kong are now realising this and know that we can contribute back. With this project with Southern, we can keep doing it, so we can do more to make a change.”

Koya stressed that the team’s profile is growing and developing. On the field the team seeks more games and competitions, and off the field the team seeks to help those on the fringes of society.

“Recently, the All Blacks had the Peace and Sports event. We had an idea, but we did not have the resources. However, we decided to do it, to try to bring the community together, and it was a huge success. We want to continue to serve and give back to the Hong Kong community.  The team also wants to keep on competing and playing, and we welcome more teams and challenges.”

Zesh Rehman hopes the All Blacks can produce mentors and role-models for the future. Photo: All Black FC

Koya has high hopes for the partnership between KC Southern, the All Blacks and the Zesh Rehman Foundation.

“I hope that our partnership with KC Southern and the Zesh Rehman Foundation will make a good impact in Hong Kong and that we can work together for the development of Hong Kong.”

Zesh Rehman is happy that this new partnership will soon be realized and believes that it will slowly grow further and benefit more people.

“It will be a unique project, as no other club is doing it. The All Blacks have been around for a while now, but no one is officially engaged with them. The fact that we will be the first Premier League team to do that will mean more exposure, more reach, and more coverage, as it will coincide with the football club. So this time next year, ideally, there will be a lot more awareness of the issues and we can take the other project that the club has started, such as developing mentors and role models. We are not trying to run before we can walk, so the first steps are to increase the sustained awareness and not just a one off event.”

More than just a game, football gives hope to those on the margins of society, and KC Southern, along with the Zesh Rehman Foundation, and their new partnership with All Black FC, is a step in the right direction.

Links:

Zesh Rehman Foundation

All Black FC

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