Shaheen gives community cohesion a sporting chance

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Keen swimmer Shaheen Alghofari is well aware of the benefits of regular exercise, so he jumped at the chance to help youngsters in his own community reap the same rewards.

Shaheen, who trains most days with the City of Leeds Swimming Club, applied for funding from volunteering organisation vInspired for his proposal to run circuit training sessions for young Syrians. His application was successful and he used the £500 grant for equipment such as skipping ropes, boxing gloves and medicine balls.

A Year 12 student at The Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL), Shaheen kept his costs down by recruiting a team of volunteers from his fellow students, promoting the sessions through Facebook and obtaining venues free of charge.

The 1½ hour circuit training sessions at Ebor Gardens Community Centre or Hyde Park Methodist Church regularly attracted around 15 Syrian teenagers, who are working hard to learn English and study at school after the trauma of leaving their home country.

Beyond the obvious fitness and language gains, the benefits to participants and volunteers were beyond Shaheen’s wildest expectations.

He said: “Most volunteering has an impact on experience but this had a personal impact. We’d do the exercises and halfway through we’d have a break and just talk – that was unplanned but it was good. I felt it was good for us all to speak to each other and learn about different cultures.”

Although initially an eight week project, the sessions were so popular that Shaheen is continuing to offer them whenever he can find a venue. He is also applying for funding for another volunteering project, which will offer community sessions to learn the traditional Arabic dance ‘dabke’.

Shaheen is pictured with two of his student volunteers (L-R) O’Neil Ouinsou and Jayesh Bharath. Other students who volunteered for Shaheen were Ripudaman Singh, Adil Omar, Nyle Ahmed and Chris Lawrence.

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