(FREDERICTON, NB) The laughter echoed off the walls of the dome, rolling over the turf like the many soccer balls being kicked about.
And the smiles. They were on every face.
The atmosphere inside the BMO Centre bubble Tuesday morning stood in stark contrast to the recent experiences of the visitors.
Those visitors, about two dozen children, all recent arrivals in Canada. Syrians, who’d fled civil war with their families, risking their lives in hopes of finding peace and a new life.
“I can’t imagine what those kids have been through,” said Selina Fabbri, preparing for her second season with the Varsity Reds women’s soccer team. “I’ve heard about and seen, on TV, many things that happened in their country.”
Fabbri and four other UNB soccer players spent Tuesday morning playing soccer with the children. There was some instruction, but for the most part, they focused on fun.
“Hopefully they had fun today, because I did… and there were lots of smiles and high fives.”
George Lawton, captain of the Varsity Reds men’s soccer team, was among those asked to help.
He doesn’t speak Arabic. The children speak very little English. Still, they found a way to communicate.
“I think that has a lot to do with the game we were playing,” said Lawton. “Football is a universal sport, it’s loved everywhere. It doesn’t matter what they’ve been through or what they’re going to go through, when you’re playing football, other things don’t matter anymore.”
The children aren’t enrolled in school right now, as their families are awaiting placement in other communities.
“It’s super necessary for them to get out and run around and burn off some energy,” said Madeleine Whalen, the Children and Youth Program Coordinator with the Multi-Cultural Association of Fredericton.
She says the trip to the UNB bubble was one the children had been looking forward to.
“One of their favourite activities is playing soccer and we usually just get to play it on a tennis court, so today they got to play in an actual… nice… facility, with people who know how to play, so it’s been good.”
The opportunity to bring the children to BMO Centre came about through connections between UNB coaches and the Fredericton District Soccer Association.
It was a memorable experience for all involved.
“They enjoyed the time and were happy to be with us,” said Jelisa Joncas, of the women’s soccer team.
Joncas said it provided her with a little stress relief too.
“During exam time, that happiness and joy was really helpful, not only for me, but I’m sure for them too.”
A little laughter, a break from exams, and a reminder.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” said Fabbri. “I’m very fortunate with what I have here and it’s good to take a step back and look at other places in the world that are going through a lot harder times than we are.”
The smile on Brandon Eagle’s face was hard to miss.
About to graduate, Eagle backstopped the Varsity Reds men’s team to a silver medal at the CIS championship.
He was thrilled to give something to children who’d had so much taken from them.
“We just let them kind of release from all that they had from having to move here. They weren’t really thinking about anything but soccer,” said Eagle. “I would never be able to fathom what they’ve been through, but when you see them out here, they’re happy to be here and it’s uplifting for you, as well.”