In an effort to help Ukrainian newcomers adjust to life in Winkler, Regional Connections ran an indoor soccer program over winter. 

"When we saw the increase of Ukrainian kids move to town, they came (to our office), and every time I asked them, what was something they enjoyed doing? It was always football - which is soccer to us," explains Aubrey Krahn, who works for the organization through its Settlement Workers in School (SWIS) program.

"So, I figured during the winter months, why not bring it indoors, and meet other kids that are also into soccer. They asked if they can bring friends with, they've asked when we're doing it again, because today is our last one for inside, and then we'll be moving it outside for July and August. We have volunteers that have signed up to do the coaching. So, we have booked the 15th Street field. Every Thursday in July and August, in the mornings, we will run soccer outside."

For Yelizavyeta Ponomarenko, a Grade 11 student at Northlands Parkway Collegiate in Winkler, this is her third year as a volunteer soccer coach.

"I mostly coach the kids, think of games, think of drills to do with them, stuff that will be fun for them, encourage the kids to engage and communicate with each other and with me, what they like, what they don't like. The kids are really nice. They get very excited, and it makes me happy to see they're excited, and they're enjoying what we're doing for them, and adjusting to their needs and their wants."

One of the regular players at the JR Walkoff school gym was 14-year-old Amrit Deal, who moved to Winkler about three months ago.
"I like this game and I like it here. We play games and drills. There is fun and there is my friends, and more activities we can do here."

The soccer program is a great way for kids to connect, learn about other cultures and community while building self-esteem, points out Krahn. And participation is not exclusive to newcomers. 

"We've got kids from Ukraine, we've got kids from India, we've got kids from Canada,  and that was our goal. It was open to the public, just to get some Canadian kids in and different cultured kids. When we started, we had about 15 to 18 kids. Basketball dropped on the same day. So we've lost a few kids because of that, but we still have a good amount. We usually have around 10 to 15."

The soccer program is one of several that Krahn supervises under the SWIS umbrella. 

"I run a lunch program at Winkler Elementary School, so I'm actually on my third one. I've been doing this for about five to six months. I also run a mentorship program at the local high school, NPC (Northland Parkway Collegiate), which is where we get our two volunteers for soccer from."

Ponomorenko moved to Winkler from Ukraine in 2010. As other families and friends followed her to southern Manitoba, she's enjoyed helping them settle in, and adjust, to the idiosyncrasies of life in Canada.

"The culture is very, very different here. I think people are very open there with their emotions. People here are more used to being, just like, nice and maybe not showing their true selves. That sounds a little bad," said Ponomorenko apologetically. "The food is very different here. They've never heard of poutine, or the string candies that we have here. The schools are very different too. In their school (in Ukraine) they will have one class they travel with, and that class stays (together) throughout the year, maybe even throughout a couple of years. That's very different for them too. It's a big adjustment."

The high school student will continue to coach this summer as the SWIS soccer program moves outdoors for the months of July and August.

Newcomers to the community can sign up for free SWIS programs at Regional Connections.


Written with files from Ronny Guenther