Brendon McDermott: Sport and refugees, why is it important?

Sport Southland chief executive Brendon McDermott.
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Sport Southland chief executive Brendon McDermott.

A partnership between Sport Southland and those helping to introduce refugees to the province isn't an obvious one. Brendon McDermott explains why he thinks it is important.

Southland communities have changed, and are continuing to change.

At a public meeting in Invercargill hosted by the Invercargill City Council recently, we learnt more about the Colombian refugees who will begin to arrive in Invercargill early next year.

While there were some challenges highlighted at the meeting, Sport Southland is excited about the role sport and recreation can play in helping these and other migrants to settle in their new home.

We look forward to working alongside Immigration NZ, the Invercargill City Council and the Red Cross.

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You might not think of this as a traditional partnership for a regional sports trust like Sport Southland.

There are any number of ways in which our collaborative, community-led approach fits perfectly with this piece of work - from Green Prescription support to our Connecting Communities and Healthy Families Invercargill teams.

There are opportunities to work alongside Southland Football with sport providing a common language for migrants from footballing countries like Colombia, or Cycling Southland when it comes to talking about active transport for families who don't have access to a car.

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There was a great example of the power of sport in The Southland Times recently where the Appleby Cricket Club have created a welcoming atmosphere for Indian students enrolled at SIT, an approach which has paid dividends.

Those students are now giving back to the club by becoming committee members and helping with the running of the club.

As it always has, something as simple as a lift down to training and a friendly smile could help to forge a lifelong association with a club or organisation.

Dairying has been one of the key drivers in the changing dynamics of Southland's rural communities.

Where our region was once typified by families with long-held connections to specific areas, many of our communities have become more transient.

The risk this creates is a lack of the social connections which have provided such a strong rural experience and the downstream effect can be the struggle to get people to volunteer for community groups, Boards of Trustees, and sporting organisations - or even just helping out with the vast amount of travel required to participate in sport.

The irony is that at a time when community is not as connected as it once was, sport and recreation can play a vital role in helping people to feel part of their community.

Sport Southland, along with South Alive, has had the likes of American Jim Diers, an expert in inspiring community action, and, more recently, Australian coaching guru Wayne Goldsmith in Invercargill talking about the power of community and its ability to engage and drive positive change, and the importance of placing people at the centre of everything we do.

Often a new approach is helpful. We have experimented with a tool called Photovoice, assisting Year 8, 9 and 10 pupils from Aurora College to explore their surroundings through photography.

The project highlights opportunities those pupils have seen in their local community - you can see what they discovered at the South Alive Community Artspace from October 10 to October 20.

It's been really heartening to see the wide range of organisations and individuals willing to think differently about how to meet the challenges we face with our changing community dynamics.

At the end of the day we all want the same thing - a thriving Southland community and a great place to live.

* Brendon McDermott is the chief executive for Sport Southland.

 - Stuff

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