WE Schools students forge bond with Attawapiskat youth through the beautiful game.
The Royals are ranked one of the best soccer teams in Toronto. Last summer, the Bishop Marrocco-Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School team played their most important game, which just happened to be a friendly, or more, a series of friendlies.
The games took place in a remote northern Ontario First Nation. That spring, the community had made the news following a series of suicide attempts by local youth, including a 13-person suicide pact thwarted by local police. The youngest youth involved was 9-years-old.
As the press was announcing that the chief and council for the Attawapiskat First Nation was declaring a state of emergency due to the events, the Royals were just finishing their season. Around this time, the coaches approached the team with an idea. “They said we could go up there and connect with the community through our thing: soccer,” explains player Damien Charles.
Not knowing what to expect, the team was nervous. “Our first day was kind of nerve-racking, but by the end of the week we had bonded with the community,” says Damien. “Everyone was always wanting to play soccer!
Shortly after arriving, the team was leading soccer sessions for elementary schools in the mornings and high schools in the afternoon to meet the demand. “Teachers would tell us that every day the students would ask ‘when is the soccer session,’” says a proud Damien. “It was a great feeling to know that they were actually enjoying it… seeing us put smiles on their faces was the best.”
The success of the camp has teammate Nuno Da Cruz feeling like youth can make a real impact in the world, something he didn’t fully believe until The Royals’ trip up north. “We’re 16, 17,” he says. “We went all the way to Attawapiskat and made such a big difference.”
At a local WE schools rally hosted at the team’s school earlier this year, Craig Kielburger echoed Nuno’s sentiment, reminding teens of their power and potential. He called on each and every student to step up.
Taking action creates connections, he explained to the crowd of 500-and-some high schoolers from 10 Toronto WE Schools partners. “You are not alone when you stand up against a bully, when you raise your voice for a cause, when you collect a dollar, when you choose to give an hour. You are not alone when you choose to pick up a piece of trash. You are not alone when you choose to do good.”
Nuno is quick to agree with Craig, pointing out that he and his teammates are “in contact every day,” with their news friends in Attawapiskat.
Damien adds to his teammates sentiments, indicating his hopes to return. “We definitely want to go back and have a continuous bond with Attawapiskat,” he says. “We don’t want it to be a onetime thing where we go and then we disappear because that’s what they’re use to. The media goes up there, look at how bad the community is, put it on CBC, and then they leave. But we’re trying to build a community there between our school and their schools.”
Since the trip, both Damien and Nuno feel more like leaders and role models. Motivated by his experiences, Nuno plans to keep on the path WE Schools has helped steer him down.
“I want to go back to Attawapiskat—I want to help them out, again.”