Rise issue 10 cover

Central region news article: Footing it with the best

How can a 'new Kiwi' feel part of their community, which can be as foreign as Kiwi slang? For many, it's as simple as playing the beautiful game of football.

The student city of Palmerston North has become home to an increasingly diverse range of people and communities. Migrants and refugees from many different cultures come to New Zealand seeking new opportunities. Adding to this melting pot are growing numbers of international students and their families, around 4000 altogether.

Anyone settling into a new country knows the worries of finding a home, a job and schools for their children. There are also the challenges of making new friends, understanding the language and culture, and finding the confidence and support to maintain and enjoy their own culture.

EthKick football tournament in Palmerston North

EthKick is an annual seven-aside football tournament held in Palmerston North. Last year's event attracted 39 ethnically diverse teams, 13 referees and hundreds of supporters who turned out for 95 games over two days. The event was timed to coincide with Race Relations Day to celebrate the community's many ethnicities. Some of the agencies supporting EthKick (DIA, NZ Police, Palmerston North City Council, Multi Cultural Council, Ministry of Social Development, Sport Manawatu, Central Football and Refugee Services) even pulled on their boots to mix it up with the communities on a real level.

“The EthKick football competition is a celebration of the district's cultural diversity with more than 100 ethnic groups living in the Manawatu. Its aim is to promote a positive image of friendship through football", said Heather Tanguay, EthKick committee chair.

The Massey University-based Omani Team competed hard, facing the Saudi Thirsty Camels in the final to win EthKick 09. Their win qualified them to represent their country, and Palmerston North, at the New Zealand Communities Football Cup, which they also won. The Omani Team have experienced the successes of wins at both regional and national football competitions, giving them the title of New Zealand's best ethnic football side; a title that sits with great pride for Omani Team captain Ibrahim Al-Hinai.

“Football for us has brought down barriers of language and cultures. The spirit of co-operation and appreciation of diversity from players, their supporters and the community has been a wonderful experience. For us it just feels good to be part of a society that goes to such great lengths to make us feel included. I think the people of Palmerston North should know we really appreciate it", Ibrahim said.

Getting connected to the community

The team's success is not only on the football field, but in their feelings of inclusiveness within the community; their ability to connect with the city’s services and agencies has been a highlight for them. Mark Dawson, community relationships manager for Inland Revenue, said that having a combined Inland Revenue and Work and Income team provided a face for the organisations, and was an excellent opportunity to enhance their profiles within ethnic communities. "It was a great collaborative initiative. One that we will be looking at repeating for EthKick 10", Mark said.

As a result of EthKick 09, a women-only swimming night at a local pool has been established for ethnic women, and the first-ever Rainbow Praise event was held, incorporating 'Songs of Praise' from Palmerston North's ethnic communities to celebrate their different faiths.

EthKick 10 looks to be another outstanding weekend.