Soccer gives chance to fit in

Taw Hser (left) and Ray Ner came to Canada in 2008 from a refugee camp in Thailand. The pair are key players for the Langley Saints senior boys’ soccer team. - Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
Taw Hser (left) and Ray Ner came to Canada in 2008 from a refugee camp in Thailand. The pair are key players for the Langley Saints senior boys’ soccer team.
— image credit: Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

Until they were in their early teenage years, Taw Hser and his cousin, Ray Ner, were raised in a refugee camp in Thailand.

The pair, along with their families, were among the 140,000 or so Karen refugees, dispersed among camps along the Thailand/Myanmar, or Burma as it was formerly known, border.

“It was pretty hard to live there,” admitted Hser, now 18, and a Langley Secondary Student.

Ner is 17.

“You weren’t allowed to go outside the camp unless you got permission,” Hser said.

While this lack of freedom or choice may seem like such a foreign concept for most Canadian teenagers,  Hser and Ner didn’t know anything else.

Both were born in the United Nations camp.

“You are just used to it,” Hser admitted. “It is your way of life.”

But a couple of years ago, they came to Canada as refugees.

Hser came with his mother, while Ner was accompanied by his parents, two sisters and three brothers.

Arriving with very limited English skills, the pair spent their first year at LSS, just trying to fit in with not only their new classmates, but also a new culture.

And the old cliché goes that sports is a language that all cultures understand.

Last year, they saw a poster up in the school’s hallways, advertising the Saints’ senior boys soccer team tryouts, the pair jumped at the chance.

Both had played before, but never in an organized fashion.

“They are both good kids,” said Saints coach Gurp Mahil. “It has been an adjustment for them coming to a new culture.”

“But I think through soccer, they have had the ability to make friends and represent the school.

“And they are role models for their peers.”

Last year, the pair’s first of organized soccer, they helped Langley place fourth at the provincial AAA championships.

Unfortunately, at last week’s tournament at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex — originally scheduled for November, a snow storm resulted in a six-month postponement — the Saints came 15th out of the 16-team tournament.

They can take solace in the fact they played the eventual champions from Coquitlam’s Dr. Charles Best — a team they beat handily earlier in the season — to a scoreless draw. Best won its other four games, including the championship final, 3-2 overtime victory against North Delta, another foe the Saints beat during the season.

Mahil has noticed a big difference in the pair.

“They were new and hadn’t played any organized soccer,” he said. “And now I have seen them develop into team players.

“It took them a little bit (to blend in) but I think it has been a good experience for them,” Mahil added.

“If they never participated on our team, I think it would have been very difficult for them to make friends and get involved with our school.”

The school does have a large contingent of Karen refugee students, but by being a part of the Saints’ soccer team, Mahil believes the pair have gone outside their comfort zone.

He has noticed a big difference, especially in his goalkeeper.

“In the first year, Taw wouldn’t talk or come out of the net, now he is coming out and demanding his area.”

But for the pair, the chance to play was less about fitting in and more about competing in a game they loved.

“I just wanted to play,” admitted Hser, the team’s goalkeeper.

Ner, a defender, said that being in Canada represents opportunity.

“Here you can play any sport,” he explained. “In Thailand, you could only play soccer and volleyball.

“Here you can play hockey, football, anything you want.”

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