TWO Afghan refugees who walked across Europe to find a new home have been welcomed with open arms by a Birmingham-based charity cricket programme.
Wicketz – a Lord’s Taverners project using cricket as a tool for change – launched its thriving second city hub in 2017 and it has made a massive impact in a short space of time.
The project specifically targets hard-to-reach areas with weekly cricket workshops in Redditch, Dudley and now Worcester.
Development officer Harry Kitchen says the scheme has helped Ibrahim, a young refugee who spent eight months in the Calais Jungle, turn unimaginable adversity into hope for the future.
“We’ve got a couple of refugees who walked to France, starting with their family and losing them on the way,” he said.
“Then they were on the back of a bus in Birmingham on their own with absolutely nothing.
“We’ve given them that connection to their new community through cricket. Sport is the tool to bring them in and then we work on their life.
“It gives them the confidence to make friends, speak to people and helps them with the language. Cricket is a great way of bringing different backgrounds together.
“Some of them are from such different backgrounds that they wouldn’t bat an eyelid at each other in the street, but with us they mix and make friends.”
The programme aims to establish community cricket clubs in deprived areas where opportunities to play sport are lower than the national average.
As part of Wicketz, regular participants spent three unforgettable days at the programme’s national festival at Repton School in Derbyshire earlier this month.
Uniting the nation
The event brought together Wicketz kids from across the UK, with the West Midlands contingent thrown into teams alongside youngsters from Leyton, London, and Bristol.
Using the Derbyshire school’s world-class facilities, the eight to 16-year-olds were put through their paces by Moseley-born former England and Worcestershire bowler Kabir Ali – cousin of England and Pears all-rounder Moeen – whilst former England coach Peter Moores tested their fielding skills.
Kitchen, who has a long history of inner-city sports coaching in Birmingham, was moved by a remarkable tale of friends reunited in the leafy surrounds of the Midlands private school.
“It was an incredible three days at Repton and the kids loved it,” he said.
“Some of those from other projects around the country are also refugees and Ibrahim ran into kids he’d seen in the jungle. To see them back together – that’s pretty special.
“We try to help them and, even if it’s just one little change to make a day better for them, it means everything to us.”
Derbyshire all-rounder Luis Reece was alongside Kabir to share his expertise with bat and ball and was enthused by the energy of the young participants.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to play the game we love and this programme offers that to kids who might not otherwise get the chance,” said the former Lancashire man.
“They are talented kids who all came down with a smile on their face and asked me lots of questions, which is very rewarding to see.”
Using cricket as a tool for change, Wicketz is aimed at hard-to-reach youngsters aged eight to 16 within areas of high deprivation across the UK, by engaging young people who live in communities where there are few opportunities to play the game regularly.
For more details about the sessions in Redditch, email West Midlands Wicketz development officer Harry Kitchen at email@example.com.