In 2006, a young Dignity for Children Foundation student named Faisal drowned while trying to retrieve a football from the Gombak river, Kuala Lumpur. In his memory, the non-governmental organisation launched the Faisal Cup, a tournament that aims to create a safe space for marginalised or vulnerable children to play football freely.
“In the early days, it was just for Dignity students. But over the years, it expanded and just grew from there. We decided to make it a proper tournament with preliminaries and everything done over a few months. Right before lockdown, we actually took the Faisal Cup to Penang and Johor,” says Renee Koo Huey-Ee, head of marketing and communications at Dignity for Children Foundation.
Since then, the foundation has been running Dignity Peace Camps and football training sessions, and this dedication towards creating a safe space did not go unnoticed. Towards end-2014, the Manchester City Football Club (MCFC) approached it to send in a proposal for the club’s Cityzens Giving Programme. “What they do is focus their funding on helping projects related to a range of issues affecting young people, including tackling gang crime, HIV education, and promotion of a healthy lifestyle. Its main aim is to support communities,” explains Koo. Dignity was one of six chosen from all over the world for this opportunity.
The Lead Camp — an acronym for Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development — was established to receive funding for the Dignity Peace Camps and football training from the Cityzens Giving Programme. Chosen participants also have the opportunity to travel to MCFC’s Young Leaders Summit, a week of intensive training in leadership and community coaching. “Basically, the main aim is to use football to tackle social issues. The selected young leaders get access to this extensive training by Man City coaches, and they are able to develop their skills and confidence before going back to their home countries and delivering these life-changing projects,” says Koo. To date, 13 lucky young leaders from Dignity have had the opportunity to attend the summit.
Options was able to speak to Fadlin Linsai, who was chosen for Dignity’s first Young Leaders Summit in 2015, and again in 2016. “It was definitely one of the best experiences. I have always been a Man City supporter and a big fan. So, to visit the stadium, see how they train and even meet one of the players was such a good opportunity. It is really good that we can exchange ideas and knowledge, and learn from the skills they share. I really enjoyed myself. The first year was level one and in 2016, it was level two, which had more leadership challenges,” he recalls. When the young leaders return, they pass on their newfound knowledge by training and teaching other students, creating a cycle that benefits all.
Today, Fadlin is the skills training and education programme lead at Dignity. “I am one of the coordinators for the sports programme. Some have left Dignity, but most of us are still here working together. We have been learning how to develop a football training plan. I wrote a plan for the session so that I will be able to share it with the other young leaders at Dignity. I think I wouldn’t have the confidence or skill to do so if I had not gone for the summit,” he says.
Naturally, Fadlin is the perfect person to explain how the activities under the Lead Camp work. “For the Peace Camps, there are two components: one in the classroom and the other on the field. Both include character development and peace education. The football training emphasises that playing football is not just about winning, especially in our Faisal Club. It’s not just about winning, it is really about learning the value of fairness, justice and giving opportunity to all,” he explains.
The Dignity Peace Camp runs over three days and is a holistic approach to the game. “Sports in general, as we all know, can promote peace and tolerance and bring people together. The great part about Dignity is that we have over 20 nationalities. So, it can be beautiful and also a challenge. The Dignity Peace Camp is something we run for the kids when they come together. We have them learn football,” says Koo.
Although the Young Leaders Summit was on hold because of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, this year, three young leaders from Dignity —19-year-old Zeroberto from Perak; Mindy Gan, who works in Dignity’s education content creation and administration (ECCA) section; and Choon Ken, a secondary school-teacher — were chosen to attend. “The training required us to talk to one another a lot. We met many people from different countries. We learnt and practised football together. It really helped me to be more confident. On the football side, the skills taught by professional footballers were invaluable. It was really a dream come true and unforgettable for me,” says Zeroberto.
The Faisal Cup season will begin on July 30, giving young people a chance to compete and put their newfound skills to use. Dignity welcomes volunteers to help out during matches, or perhaps offer their spare time to coach football at its weekly sports sessions or programmes.
For more information or to volunteer, see here.
This article first appeared on July 11, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.