How Covid-19 has affected Happy Foot's work
Every year, we mark World Refugee Day on 20th June. It is a day to celebrate the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee and is an occasion to build empathy and an understanding of their plight and resilience. In these times, displaced populations are especially at risk. Sport has been known to play a positive role in the lives of displaced populations, and these organisations have been a crucial part of this movement around sport and refugees. This year, we want to recognise the efforts of organisations working with refugees, as well as highlighting how the pandemic has affected lives of displaced people.
To mark World Refugee Day this year, sportanddev reached out to organisations across the globe who are working with and for refugees. These organisations operate in different regions across Africa, South America and Europe. This article on Happy Foot’s work is part of the series of articles sharing the stories of these organisations and how they have been affected.
Working in the city of Biel, Switzerland, the project Happy Foot was launched in 2018 and they have recently started their third season. They organise football sessions every Monday evening in Biel, with a mix of refugees and locals. As they state, “We are supported by the NGO Multimondo, the city of Biel and UEFA that provides us with football material. Given that we are part of the Multimondo network, we can also provide our participants with access to other services such as job coaching and language courses. The city of Biel has also helped us to develop our local network and gain visibility.”
What work do they do with refugees?
For Happy Foot, the goal of the project is “to provide an informal and flexible playing opportunity to all interested persons with or without migration background in Biel.” They give their participants the chance to have a regular healthy sport activity while at the same time meet various people living in Biel and therefore develop their local social network. It is also used as a platform where participants can share information, exchange in their own first language, or learn new words in French and German, the two official languages in Biel. Working to increase access, the participation is open to everyone and does not require the commitment that would be needed in more formal clubs' settings.
How has the pandemic affected their work?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a very significant impact on their work given that they were no longer able to meet and play on a regular basis - “We had to postpone the start of the third season, which was supposed to start in March. After the Federal Council lowered its restrictions at the beginning of June, we submitted our protection concept, which was approved by the city, and could therefore start again on June 8th. As an example, one of the rules mentioned in our fair-play charter is to shake hands before and after the sessions. This has obviously been provisionally removed!”
Looking to the future, for them “the pandemic has highlighted the importance of informal social contacts, where persons in similar situations can share their own experience and coping strategies. They have experienced that football works particularly well to build new relationships, as it automatically creates interactions and removes barriers by playing together and focusing on the same goal. Furthermore, “these informal contacts are an important addition to more official programmes and information campaigns delivered by the authorities. The pandemic also showed the importance of having an online platform available in order to maintain the interactions when it is no longer possible to meet in person.”
What does World Refugee Day mean to them?
For the founder of Happy Foot Mr. Matthieu Bulliard, the World Refugee Day, through its international visibility, “can be an important tool to inform the population about the refugee’s situations, rights and contributions to the host country. I think that it is important that the population gets a better understanding of the various reasons why people have to flee their country and what the responsibilities of the host countries are.” He further goes on to write, “on a more concrete basis, the World Refugee Day’s spotlight can also be used to raise the public’s interest in specific local projects.”