West Vancouver barber bringing joy of soccer to refugee kids

posted on October 29, 2014

By Larissa Cahute, the Province | Link to Article

By Larissa Cahute, the Province | Link to Article

When West Vancouver’s Michel Ibrahim travelled to Lebanon more than 20 years ago, he was shocked to find what few resources and activities were available to the country’s displaced and orphaned refugee children.

Ibrahim, originally from Lebanon, recalled seeing a group of kids playing a makeshift game of soccer — on a concrete street, kicking around a beat-up ball. While they were happy in their play, he wanted to help.

“I (went) to the nearest soccer shop in my town, bought 10 soccer balls and nets and let them play soccer,” he said. “I’d be willing to do it again and again and again … so every kid can (play) soccer.”

“Soccer is easy — you don’t need so much money. You have 15 kids on a soccer ball and the happiness is on their faces.”

While it’s a game played worldwide, he realized it’s “out of reach” for the tens of thousands of displaced children who have been forced to flee war-torn countries and live in tents and refugee camps.

Not only are they pulled out of school, but many are dealing with tragedy, like losing a parent to war.

So when Ibrahim returned to Canada he founded the International Soccer Exchange Society, which developed into a soccer academy that works to help teach soccer to kids in underdeveloped and war-torn countries.

And today, in the charity’s 18th year, he’s asking for donations of new and used soccer equipment so he can continue to bring the sport to refugee children.

“They have no gear, they have no balls, they have no shoes — nothing,” said Ibrahim, adding that many of them would come out to simply watch his soccer academy practices, then head back to their camps.

“The coaches told me there are too many kids and they need to play a decent game.”

So Ibrahim is asking people in Vancouver to donate all kinds of soccer gear — anything from soccer balls, to shin pads, cleats, jerseys, uniforms, shorts and nets.

He ran a similar drive last year and was able to help about 200 children, “but it wasn’t enough,” he said, adding that this year he’s aiming to provide gear for 700 to 1,000 kids.

“When you walk to the soccer field … and you hand each (player) a jersey, or a soccer ball, or shoes, or shin pads, (it) gives them some little bit of a sense of belonging to a team, membership,” Ibrahim said. “You pass the ball to them, they pass it back to you.”

The pure joy on their faces as they’re handed the new equipment is “indescribable,” he said.

So this year he’s not only hoping to bring in more donations, but also expand his mission to India as well, which will be a little bit easier this year as Air Canada has signed on and agreed to transport the donations.

Anyone wishing to give new or used soccer equipment to help Ibrahim’s cause can drop off donations at his West Vancouver Barbershop at 1345 Marine Drive. He hopes to send off the donations by Nov. 15.

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