An Italian organization is giving refugees and asylum-seekers the opportunity to craft their skills as soccer players, learn the game and possibly become part of a team.
The Asante Onlus Association in Palermo, Sicily, has set up the Asante Calcio team, which includes refugees from African nations that have come to the island in recent years.
Calcio, the Italian word for soccer, is helping the refugees and asylum-seekers better their lives and feel more included in the social fabric of the vibrant city and country.
In recent years, the Mediterranean island has been inundated with immigrants coming from parts of Africa and the Middle East.
The Asante Onlus Association, which helps men and women from Africa find jobs and internships as well as help them learn a skill, thought crafting a soccer team could help in other areas like socializing and having an outlet for expression, teamwork, and of course, fun.
“Many guys we had expressed the wish to be able to play football,” Asante Onlus Association spokesman Roberto Carmina told InsideEdition.com.
The team began last year and in September, the team began working to qualify for the third tier of Italian football known as Serie C.
“For them it is a great opportunity to show off and is [an] important showcase to nurture the dream of one day becoming professional footballers,” Carmina said. “To see these guys who have suffered so much, smile again, for me is a source of great happiness and pride.”
The team is coached by former Italian national team striker and 1990 World Cup hero Salvatore “Totò” Schillaci. The 52-year-old is a native to Palermo and also runs a youth academy in the city. The team sometimes practices at his facility which is located in the heart of the city.
“We thought that Totò Schillaci could be a role model for these kids, because with his passion and his dedication to the sport, which enchanted millions of Italians and the sport has changed his life,” Carmina told Inside Edition. “Once we proposed the idea to Totò Schillaci to become sporting director and supervisor of the sports project, Totò responded enthusiastically.”
The team has already made an impact on the city and has been embraced by all.
“The city of Palermo reacted enthusiastically to this,” Carmina said. “I hope that other associations can give job opportunities such as this to the boys who arrived from Libya.”
Carmina said that some of the athletes have what it takes to turn pro and for those who don't, the team aims to at least give the players a chance to improve their language skills and learn about the customs and traditions of the city they live in.
“In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘sport laughs in the face of discrimination.’ We hope that sport unites the citizens of Palermo with the future citizens of Palermo and constitutes the foundation for the society of the future,” Carmina added.