On a crisp Saturday morning earlier this month, 10 young people with former refugee backgrounds, alongside New Zealand Red Cross staff and volunteers, headed to Orange Theory Stadium to spend the day immersed in all things rugby.

“I didn’t know anything about rugby before the weekend,” says attendee Furozan Hoseiny. “It’s a really cool game.”

The event was initiated and organised by new charity Samēkaha, and supported by AMI insurance with the help of Canterbury Rugby union. Its aim was to introduce young people who have recently arrived in Aotearoa to the sport that makes Kiwis go just a little mad.

Canterbury Rugby players meet their newest fans.

The air was full of energy as participants filed off the bus and headed into the stadium to kick off the day. First up, the group had an exclusive opportunity to watch the Canterbury Rugby team’s top secret Captain’s Run. Many of the young people had never witnessed the game before, so Ketaki Khare was on hand to explain the session to the eager group.

Ketaki is the founder of Samēkaha, an organisation which seeks to equip diverse communities with knowledge about rugby to be able to build networks and connections with the wider Kiwi community.

"I was incredibly passionate about the idea of building and bridging social capital through the exchange of sport and culture for between communities of Aotearoa, which was the driving force to come up with Samēkaha," Ketaki explains. 

With the Captain’s Run complete, the group headed down to the side line to meet the players.

“It was hilarious and heart-warming watching the excitement on the faces of everyone after getting a hug and signature from the players,” says New Zealand Red Cross Settlement Youth Worker Elizabeth Magabbo, who coordinated the event.

“It was as if everyone had been bitten by the rugby bug!”

The rest of the day was run by Samēkaha with the Canterbury Rugby crew at Rugby Park, learning the rules and history of rugby. Lessons included basic skill-building, kicking, passing and a friendly game.

Putting new skills to practise at Rugby Park in Christchurch.

Furozan says “we played a game of [ripper] rugby, which is a little different. It was a bit confusing and I wasn’t very good but I was trying!”

Along with practical lessons, Ketaki shared her own story of being a female rugby player of Indian descent, as well as a video about a female rugby team in Iran. Matt Little, from Canterbury Rugby Union, also spoke to the group about joining local clubs and the drafting process.

Ketaki says running the workshop was an incredible experience. "The magic was in seeing the change of mindsets around the game and around the idea of a 'rugby player'," says Ketaki. 

The next day, all participants, along with a number of young people who had arrived in Christchurch just a few days earlier, were invited to attend a high-tempo Ranfurly Shield match between North Harbour.

“The highlight of the weekend was watching our Canterbury team smash North Harbour 31 to 25,” says Elizabeth. “We’re really grateful to the AMI team in Christchurch for helping to make this event happen.”

“My favourite part was when they scored a try at the game on Sunday. Everything was really perfect,” agrees Furozan.

Ketaki Khare (centre) teaching participants the art of passing.

You can get involved

If you’d like to support people with a refugee background who are new to your city, there are heaps of ways you can get involved: