DeeDee Ostrowska’s work at Sportunity has enabled people from all sorts of backgrounds, including refugees, to come together under the banner of sport. The advantages have been manifest and manifold.
Sportunity was founded in 2013 to support talented young athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds. The charity has since evolved to focus more generally on how sport can empower and encourage. According to DeeDee Ostrowska, who manages their operations as part of a core team of three, Sportunity’s mission is “to help children and youth in difficult circumstances – whatever they may be – through sports.” Their ‘Meet an Athlete’ project lets youngsters spend time with sporting champions and deliberately features inspiring athletes from difficult backgrounds, to show the children that “it takes hard work and a lot of training but it’s possible – you can take control of your life and change it”.
Integration through Sport
Sportunity’s main focus is now their Integration through Sport project, which DeeDee coordinates. This provides opportunities for children and young people living in refugee shelters to take part in sports such as running, football, karate, and hip hop dancing.
Although she is clear that “there is no way of understanding what they’ve been through”, DeeDee tries to use her own experiences as a starting point for understanding the needs of the displaced people Sportunity supports – she is a single mum without family nearby, who has relocated twice herself, moving from Poland to Belgium before coming to Luxembourg 8 years ago. She sees it as very positive to be able to “stop focusing on something that you’ve been through as a difficult thing, but actually use it for something absolutely wonderful.”
DeeDee feels that sport is a natural choice for promoting integration:
Sport is so universal, so positive, and so constructive – it’s a really easy platform to bring the two worlds together, the local world and the refugee world.
With this in mind, Sportunity now runs several open classes where local participants can learn alongside refugees. DeeDee also points out that sport – and in particular the way that people approach their training – quickly reveals a lot about people’s character, providing a way to “show people who you are without words”. “Language is not a barrier”, she says, because “it’s a language in its own right – basic gestures, copying, and imitating.” Sport can also provide refugees, such as the children from the foyer in Weilerbach who ran in the youth section of this year’s ING Night Marathon, with “a wonderful opportunity to take part in local events and learn about local ways.” Taking part in Luxembourg’s “beautifully organized” regular running events can create a strong link with the local community for these children. DeeDee has run several half-marathons herself, and understands the excitement of the children at these events.
Work with Refugees
An interesting twist – which fits perfectly with DeeDee’s emphasis on empowerment – is that the Integration through Sport project has begun to also explore ways that refugees can contribute to local society. While looking for participants in the foyers they met some world-class athletes, including two Syrian brothers who now teach Sportunity’s karate classes.
DeeDee feels that it has helped and empowered the trainers to have an opportunity to use their skills to teach others, and having seen this, Sportunity now actively tries to involve their older participants in local events. They took a team of teenagers along to volunteer at the ING marathon – “they were so dedicated, and they took it so seriously, because it’s a great chance for them to feel needed, to do something very constructive”. They also now try to use the skills, professions & passion of people they’ve met in the foyers at corporate events, e.g. the father of one of their karate students cooked at a team-building event they ran recently – according to DeeDee, this creates opportunities for some amazing conversations.
DeeDee sees integration as a two-way process: “when you start talking to them, you can actually learn so much, it’s unbelievable”, she says. “You never know where it’s going to take you – and I don’t only mean foyer residents & refugees, I actually mean all of us, everyone – because it’s always a dialogue.”
DeeDee believes that addressing the non-material needs of refugees is a vital step towards integration: “Without feeling good within yourself, there is no way you can go out and connect to other people – you stay isolated. You need the positive energy first to spark the connection with other people. I think you need confidence, and empowerment, and hope, and a vision of you integrating and concentrating on the future.” DeeDee feels strongly that participating in regular classes can be empowering for displaced people; hopefully “it really sparks the inner power that may be a little bit lost after the journey they had before getting to Luxembourg.” She also mentions the contrast between the very controlled living conditions in the refugee shelters, and the opportunity to join a class where you can influence your own progress, “a reminder that if you work hard on something, if you’re persistent, it actually takes you to the next step.”
DeeDee enthuses about the specific benefits of karate (her own 4-year old son recently joined the open class): “there’s a lot of self-discipline… it’s a really great way to work on skills and a strength of character that you can absolutely use in life later on”. She measures each project’s success by the impact on the children who take part, with her greatest reward being to see a group of children tired and happy after training, with their spirits visibly lifted. “To place one child in the class they’ve always dreamed of, to see the smile on their face, it’s incredible.”
How to help
- Take a look at Sportunity’s website: www.sportunity.org
- Donate: See the website for bank details / PayPal link
- Offer time or resources: Could you provide quality training, supply sports equipment, or provide a venue for classes…? They would love to hear from people with relevant skills, contacts, resources, or new ideas. Volunteers to drive / accompany children at events are also much appreciated.
- Join a class: Train with top-class trainers while supporting displaced children and youth – currently there are open classes for children in karate and hip hop dance, with more to follow…
- Vote! Sportunity would be grateful for your vote in the ING Solidarity Awards: http://bit.ly/2elCpYP (but hurry – voting ends at midday on November 8th!)