Three members of the Refugee Olympic team to call Canada home

At this year’s Olympics, Team Canada has 371 athletes, the largest team in the country to compete since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. ...


At this year’s Olympics, Team Canada has 371 athletes, the largest team in the country to compete since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

And on their return journeys, the Tokyo 2020 cohort will increase by three.

This is because three middle distance runners from the Refugee Team of the International Olympic Committee come to Canada.

Track and field athletes from South Sudan, Paulo Amotun Lokoro, Rose Lokonyen Nathike and James Nyak Chiengjiek, will travel to Ontario after the Games with a new sports scholarship. It is offered by World University Service of Canada (WUSC), a non-profit organization that has connected 2,100 refugees to educational opportunities here over the past four decades.

The athletes will join 150 other refugee students selected from around 5,000 applicants to land at one of the 80 participating institutions this fall. All three athletes will study at Sheridan College in Oakville, west of Toronto, which partners with WUSC and United Nations refugee agencies to deliver the program.

“It’s powerful, it’s transformative,” Katharine Im-Jenkins, director of programs at WUSC, told me with a caveat. “It’s a drop in the ocean, and the magnitude of the challenge for forcibly displaced people is 82 million this year, so we’re really focusing not only on those three, but also on en make a model and make it bigger. “

Although the pandemic has made travel and paperwork more complicated for refugee students, Ms Im-Jenkins said she was encouraged that the program emerging from this year’s Olympics would attract different refugee profiles. She also hopes it will inspire Canadians “to get excited and learn more about refugee issues, and to rally and do what they can in their communities to help.”

Chiengjiek, who is competing in the 800-meter race in Tokyo, his second Olympics, avoided being forcibly recruited among child soldiers in South Sudan by fleeing to Kenya in 2002, according to the Agency. United Nations for Refugees. There at Kakuma refugee camp, he trained for long-distance running and was later recruited into the new Olympic Committee refugee team, first appearing at the 2016 Games.

His story reminds me of James Madhier, whom I have spoke to in 2017, while pursuing an undergraduate degree in Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies at the University of Toronto. He also ended up in Kakuma camp after returning from a demobilization and rehabilitation program for child soldiers in Sudan, about three hours from his hometown.

Although Mr. Madhier did not count himself among the boys in need of rehabilitation, he did go because he believed the place could provide him with an education. Instead, many children ended up contracting diseases, being killed or traumatized, with some officially joining militias, he said.

Mr. Madhier’s desire for education ultimately led him to Kenya, where the list of students accepted to WUSC is posted for all to see at the camp.

Something he told me about waiting for the list – and his general take on how to overcome difficulties – resonated: “I was nervous, but life has taught me over the years. years of avoiding heartache, avoiding despair, you have to create options, even where there are none, ”he said. “Even if the option that you are going to create for yourself is how you will accept the loss.”

This year we see athletes boldly creating these options for themselves that go beyond a podium moment – from Simone Bilès withdrawing from competition for mental health issues, to german gymnasts and the Norwegian women’s beach handball team making a statement against “sexualization” in athletics, to the very existence of the refugee team in Tokyo.

And soon, three of them will settle in Canada.


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Vjosa Isai joined The New York Times as Canada’s News Assistant in June. Follow her on Twitter at @lavjosa.


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