Longtime The Courier-Mail sportwriter Bernie Pramberg wrote about joy that AFL is bringing to a group of young refugees in last Saturday’s edition. The article is reproduced here courtesy of The Courier-Mail.
After spending more than half their young lives in refugee camps, three teenage girls from the oppressed Karen ethnic group have discovered the joys of Aussie rules football.
The girls, Eh Ka Dot Ray, Selee Po and Lar Htoo May, will line up for the Zillmere Eagles under-15 girls’ team against Calamvale tomorrow.
Last week the Eagles opened their season with a big win over Coorparoo and surprised coach Geoff Pyke with their tenacity and skills.
At Thursday night’s training, the three girls bubbled with enthusiasm as they handballed, kicked and marked with the best of their teammates.
They even introduced a touch of flair with Selee unleashing a couple of cartwheels during a lull in training drills.
“They’re keen and haven’t missed a training night,” Pyke said.
“They’ve played soccer in the past and have very good hand-eye co-ordination. They’re not shy, mix very well and really contribute to the team. They’re keen to learn and ask a lot of questions about the game.”
The girls and their families were re-located by the United Nations from refugee camps on the Thailand-Burma border and did not speak a word of English when they arrived between three and four years ago.
Through sport and an excellent multi-cultural program conducted at Kedron State High School, the girls have made many friends and integrated into the Australian way of life.
Now they talk about the AFL like diehard fans and watch the games on television. A meat pie after their matches is not out of the question.
“We went to the Gabba to see the Suns and Melbourne,” Lar Htoo said. “Selee likes the old, bald guy at the Suns and I liked No.24 for Melbourne. He’s an Aboriginal player.”
We presume the “old bald guy” might have been Gary Ablett and the Demon who caught Lar Htoo’s eye was Liam Jurrah.
Lar Htoo also liked “the big No.16 for Brisbane”.
So Jonathan Brown, please hurry back.
Asked which team they supported, the trio were lukewarm.
“Maybe Brisbane,” Selee said.
The Karen people have been involved in what is believed to be the world’s longest-running civil war against the Burmese.
The conflict began during World War II when some Burmese sided with the Japanese in order to achieve independence from British rule.
However, the Karen people remained loyal to Britain and have struggled for 60 years to gain control of land in eastern Burma.
An estimated 160,000 Karen people are in refugee camps.
“It is very different in Australia. We used to live in bamboo huts but here there are houses, cars and big buildings,” Eh Ka said.
There are also unspoken memories involving ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. “They are great girls,” Roxanne Brock, president of Zillmere Eagles women’s football, said.
“I can’t believe the way they’ve taken to the game. You’d swear they came up through the ranks since Auskick – they go in hard with their heads over the ball and have surprising skills.
“And they’re just like all the other girls in the team, talking and listening to music, on their mobile phones, Facebook and stuff.”
The Eagles field three female teams – seniors, under-18 and under-15.
“We’re the only northside club with an AFL pathway for girls who want to play the game,” Brock said.
“We pride ourselves on being a welcoming, friendly club and have Sudanese, Fijian, Cook Islanders and girls from Papua New Guinea in our teams. They all contribute to the club’s culture.”
The under-15 girls play 12-a-side on a field about two-thirds the size of a full scale ground.
“Participation is a priority,” coach Pyke said. “We want to ensure every girl gets equal game time and is involved. We want to teach them the game, but having fun and enjoyment is what it’s about.”
AFL Queensland’s female participation co-ordinator Julia Price is encouraged by the number of girls with a multicultural background that are taking up the game.
She paid tribute to Ross Clayfield, a Kedron State High teacher who is heavily involved with multicultural students and also coaches at Zillmere.
“Ross’s involvement at Zillmere makes for an easy transition for the young girls into an inclusive and welcoming environment where they feel comfortable,” she said.