Refugee tennis camp is a smash hit

In the swing: Tennis coach Tony Podesta. Picture: Chris Lane
In the swing: Tennis coach Tony Podesta. Picture: Chris Lane

As Settlement Services International (SSI) prepares to announce the second round of successful Community Innovation Fund applicants, the local community is starting to benefit from the first round projects.

SSI’s $50,000 Community Innovation Fund asks the community to propose ideas and projects that support newly arrived refugees in south-west Sydney. 

One of the successful applicants was the Tony Podesta School of Tennis. The grant allowed 15 refugees to receive free tennis coaching during the school holidays. The tennis camp at Fairfield Park was open to newly arrived kids aged 5 to 15  and was held in English and Arabic. 

Mr Podesta said the tennis program aimed to improve the physical and mental health of the children through physical well-being and social connection. In turn, the fun from building social bridges can help kids through their trauma in a culturally appropriate environment.  

“The program allowed us to give an opportunity for refugee kids to play tennis that probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity previously,” he said.

“The idea with the clinic was to get the children mixing in with the other children attending our other clinics so they were not just playing within themselves and were getting that social aspect as well.”

Mr Podesta, who started playing tennis at Fairfield when he was 10 and has been coaching for 35 years, said he has been running refugee programs for the past three years.

“I think tennis is good for refugees. Tennis is a great sport and one of those sport you can play for life and take with you. It doesn’t matter where you live, you can always find your local tennis club and join,” he said.

“It’s a good way to assimilate in the community thought tennis. We used mini nets, low compression balls and did skills to develop their hand-eye coordination.

“The kids enjoyed it because they have never played before and never had that opportunity.”

One of the participants Hiba (name has been changed) said: “I met other kids from here; it was fun.”

The other recipients of the round one funding were: 

 Online help: Raghda Aziz received a grant from SSI. Picture: Chris Lane

Online help: Raghda Aziz received a grant from SSI. Picture: Chris Lane

  • Australian Iraqi Arts Academy – Arts Activities Projects.
  • Chaldean League of NSW Inc. – Technology Support: Not Only Computers with Basic English.
  • The Mandaean Women’s Union In Australia – Exhibition of Mandaean`s Culture and Tradition.
  • Melkite Catholic Eparchy – Business Ready.
  • St Thomas of the Apostle Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Australia and NZ – English Language Support.

Speaking about the Community Innovation Fund earlier this year, SSI chief executive Violet Roumeliotis said: “The fund gives people an opportunity to think of ideas that are relevant, embedded in their own communities, and tailored to their needs and their own priorities rather than someone else setting their priorities.”.