- Leadership programs are run at the Edmund Rice Centre WA
- More than 500 young diverse leaders have taken part since it began
- Participants attribute the program to their personal development
The young football fan proudly wears her fluorescent green headscarf and uniform while umpiring her 43rd game.
Born in Guinea after her parents fled their war-torn home country of Ivory Coast in West Africa, Fama migrated to Perth when she was three years old.
With hopes to become the youngest multicultural umpire in Australia, Fama said she’s proud of what she’s achieved as a young Muslim girl.
“Not seeing other people being able to accomplish this and I can, it makes my family very proud, and it makes me proud,” she said.
She said it’s important for her to represent her religion and culture while doing something she loves.
“It’s very good because now I’m inspiring younger Muslim girls to be watching me grow up and they can think ‘I want to be like her’, and they can push themselves more and more,” she said.
“If you want to do something, push yourself to do it.
“And even if you think there’s a time when you’re not doing it right, just keep doing it and focus on yourself and not what others think.”
Fama says program shaped her
With only two years of experience behind her, Fama has gone on to umpire Little League and AusKick games at Perth Stadium as well as Year 10–12 Public Association games with students twice her size.
She began her umpiring journey after joining the Edmund Rice Centre WA (ERCWA) Multicultural AFL Umpiring Academy — the first of its kind in WA.
Founded by the 2019 WA Young Person of the Year, Brenda Amito, when she was just 14 years old, the academy has gone on to train more than 75 young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
“I think it’s had a very positive impact on the kids because it’s given them new opportunities and made them see that they can go out and do things that they never thought they could do before,” she said.
“I think it’s also had a positive impact on society in general because it’s not something that they normally see, so for them to be exposed to it, I feel like it just breaks down boundaries.”
Raised in Balga in Perth’s north, Fama was inspired to take on the role of umpiring through the leadership program at the ERCWA in the culturally-diverse suburb of Mirrabooka.
The program began in 2006 and runs every Saturday from February to December, for children and youth from CALD and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island backgrounds, as well as at-risk youth.
It aims to empower young diverse leaders to become influential role models in their communities through theory, training and practical lessons on leadership and what it means to be a good leader.
Fama credits the program for shaping her into the leader she is today.
“The leadership classes are really helpful,” she said.
“At first, I was really quiet and didn’t speak or anything, but after a year of their program, I became a lot more confident and I’m able to talk to others.
“I really recommend that a lot of people should do the leadership programs, because if you think it doesn’t help, it really does.”
Parents praise daughter’s work
Fama’s dad, Sekou Toure, also praised the ERCWA for their support.
“The leaders at Edmund Rice are really fighting hard to protect [Fama] and make her feel comfortable representing her culture,” he said.
Mr Toure said he had noticed a big difference in his daughter since she started attending the classes.
“On the weekends, she goes to bed early because she says she has the leadership program and has to be there on time,” he said.
“She gets really good ideas from there.
“We can see it through how she’s looking after her little brothers and sisters and tries to teach them about what she learnt from the program.”
Coordinator ‘found a home’ in program
More than 500 young individuals have come through the program, with up to 30 participants attending each week.
Abdiwahab Hilow, a Youth Programs coordinator at ERCWA and leadership mentor, said he found a home in the program he now leads.
“In the leadership program, you’re not just a player, you’re a community member and you’re also giving back to the community,” he said.
“I’ve only been here for three-and-a-half years and in that time, I achieved a lot more than I thought I would have.”
Mr Hilow said choosing to become a mentor gave him a purpose.
“The thing I love about this program is the kids,” he said.
“You get to work with the kids and it’s amazing and it gives you like a sense of belonging.
“I feel like you leave home and come here into this environment and its fulfilling and satisfying.”
The 20-year-old became involved through the centre’s soccer program, which he joined after being unable to afford club registration fees.
“The programs are free, and the kids actually have a chance to do something constructive rather than being at home or using social media,” he said.
“It’s giving direction to the kids and giving them a sense of what bigger role they have to play in society.”
From South Sudan to Richmond
It was that guidance Akec Makur Chuot says helped her become an elite sportswoman.
Born in South Sudan, the Richmond Football Club defender spent 11 years in a Kenyan refugee camp before migrating to Perth.
Having to learn a new language, embrace a different culture and meet new people, Chuot said she didn’t know where she was going to end up.
And then she was introduced to her “second family” at the ERCWA.
“I just remember feeling very welcomed and supported in everything I did with the Edmund Rice Centre,” she said.
“I think it really helped my transition because just when you walk into the Edmund Rice Centre at Mirrabooka, you’ll always see diverse and different people.
“It makes you so happy knowing that there’s so many different people that live in Perth — that was the one aspect that I really loved.”
Despite living in Melbourne for the past three years, Chuot continues to regularly keep up with the ERCWA through social media.
She said the leadership program in particular will always be special to her.
“We live in an environment now where young people, when they’re empowered to become leaders, incredible things can happen.”
“It’s not just becoming footballers, it’s becoming administrators, umpires, coaches — there’s so many different things and pathways that these programs provide to kids from multicultural backgrounds.”
Chuot hopes her story will inspire young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds to dream big.
“For me, 16 years later, I never thought that a young kid who was born in South Sudan … went to Kenya and came to a different country not knowing English, would end up at the Richmond Football Club,” she said.
“To do that with the limited opportunities that I was given, I hope that inspires people to go ‘If she can do that, I can do that too’.”
The Mirrabooka Leadership Program is funded by the Department of Social Services through The Smith Family to service children up to 12-years-old.
However, the ERCWA is seeking to grow their funding to cater for young people aged 13 and over.
The program has been expanded to other areas, including Butler and Ellenbrook.