Making a Difference

11 September 2012

by Matiullah Haidar

Afghan refugee Matiullah Haidar wins prestigious award for charity work

Matiullah Haidar is amazed at how much his life has changed since 2008, when he arrived in the UK as a 14 year old refugee.

"When I arrived, new to the country, I couldn't speak English. " he says.  "All the things were new, such as transport, food, tradition and I didn't know anyone.  So it was really difficult to trust people. "

Four years later Matiullah speaks English fluently, is studying hard - and is enjoying the kind of public recognition that most teenagers can only dream of.

This summer, sporting legends Muhammad Ali and David Beckham presented him with the Beyond Sport "Generation Ali" Award, which recognises service, leadership and action in the community.  He was nominated in recognition of his work with the Cricket for Change charity, based in London.

He didn't expect to win. " I was on a shortlist of eight finalists" he says. "And when Beckham was announcing the awards, he opened the envelope and he read out my name.  So I was really shocked- I was almost speechless in front of them!" he says.

Matiullah has worked tirelessly with Cricket for Change's Refugee Cricket Project, which brings young refugees, who are living alone, together to play cricket and learn English, as well as offering them other forms of support. 

"I completed my United Kingdom Level One Cricket Coaching, I became an assistant coach and because of that I'm helping the head coach. They made me the manager of the team and I'm helping  organising fixtures, tours, team selections - and interpreting, as well, for those guys whose English is not good." he says.

Danny Baker, Cricket for Change's Training Manager, says Matiullah was nominated for the prestigious award because his contribution goes far beyond cricket.  He says the young man also offers the other young refugees more general support, including translating official documents for them.

According to Danny "It was all about using sport - but going beyond that."  he says. "It's the stuff around helping the young people feel comfortable, helping the new kids get to the sessions.  Without his documentation, without his clear and good English, some of the kids won’t  understand when they've got important lessons to go to, which school they’re going to ...who's going to look after them.  So in many ways, Matiullah is like a surrogate big brother to eighty people, so I thought that was going 'beyond sport'.

Matiullah also volunteers with the British Refugee Council. "I was a former client of the British Refugee Council...and I know how it feels when someone comes new to the country."  he explains.  "Now I'm a children's support adviser in British Refugee Council, volunteering one day a week."

Matiullah admits that his recent successes are really changing his life.  But he's not resting on his laurels - he has big ambitions for the future.

"I am going to college now." he says " And I am hoping to become a doctor".