Afghan refugees’ love of cricket helps to inspire their new lives

Two years ago, Fahim and Ajjaz were playing cricket for hours every day in the dusty backstreets and mountains of Afghanistan, fashioning a bat out of a tree branch and using a ball made from rolled-up socks.

Never did the talented duo ever imagine playing their much-loved sport overseas and making a name for themselves in the North Yorkshire cricketing community.

Fahim, from the Jalalabad city of Afghanistan, and Ajjaz, who lived in Baghlan, did not know each other before they arrived in England in the summer of 2022 as unaccompanied asylum seeking children after fleeing persecution their homeland when the Taliban took back power two years ago. Enduring a harrowing journey, the two 17-year-olds travelled separately through Asia and then Europe before arriving in the UK.

Both Fahim and Ajjaz subsequently spent a week in London and then a month in Leeds where they met for the first time and connected immediately and have become close friends. A month later, they began their new life in Cawood, near Selby, after being fostered by local resident Jenny Scanlon.

Despite feeling incredibly lonely having left their loved ones in Afghanistan and hardly being able to speak any English, they have since not only become star players of Cawood Cricket Club, but they are excelling in their English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) courses and have become great ambassadors for York College.

North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for corporate services, Cllr David Chance, whose responsibilities include refugee and asylum issues, said: “It’s so pleasing to see Fahim and Ajjaz doing so well. Despite the challenges faced by the boys, they are humble, admirable and embracing life in England. North Yorkshire has welcomed asylum seekers for many years, we take great pride in resettling and welcoming refugees into the county so I am grateful to the Cawood community for making the boys feel at home.”

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Meanwhile, Ms Scanlon is not only proud of the boys’ sporting talents, but has total admiration of their focus, determination and how they have quickly forged relationships in the Cawood community – a place which they now call home. She said: “Fahim and Ajjaz have faced extraordinary challenges in their young lives and watching them flourish and develop has been uplifting. It has not been easy for them. They have grappled with grief and depression after living through war and having to leave their loved ones and their homeland.

“There has been a lot of trauma and upset not to mention the culture shock. When they arrived, they spoke hardly any English and each and every day has been a steep learning curve including mastering using a microwave and tumble dryer.”

Speaking about the new chapter in his life, Fahim said: “I am so glad I met Aijaz and we now have a brotherly bond. We have made lots of friends locally and I enjoy playing cricket so much.”

His friend said he is thankful for the love shown by Ms Scanlon and other local residents.

Ajjaz said: “England is such a fantastic country and I am so pleased to be living in such a friendly community where everyone has made us feel so welcome. I’ve been playing cricket since the age of three. I used to play all day long in the streets and mountains of Afghanistan. My family didn’t have a lot of money to afford a bat and ball, so my friends and I used rolled-up socks and tree branches, but our love for the sport always remained. Since playing for Cawood I feel so happy. I now have aspirations to one day become a professional cricketer.”

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The chair of Cawood Cricket Club, Matthew Stead, said: “It’s been a pleasure welcoming Ajjaz and Fahim to Cawood Cricket Club and sharing their passion for cricket. Over the summer season it was great to see them get involved with the club, improve and grow in confidence and become integral members of the team.”

Ms Scanlon went on to say that providing a home for Fahim and Aijaz has been one of the “best things” she has done.

“I’m so proud and delighted with the progress that they’ve made so far,” she said. “It’s not been easy because of the language barrier, but it’s been a mutually enriching experience and it has opened my eyes to things I’ve never contemplated before.”

There is already a national shortage of foster carers across the UK and now there is a need for more foster carers to look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are often teenage boys with no home or family to return to.

Visit www.northyorks.gov.uk/fostering to find out more about the opportunities available or call 01609 534654 to speak to a member of the Fostering North Yorkshire team.

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