Settlement Services International (SSI), Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia have teamed up to provide Afghan evacuees access to a much-loved cultural institution: cricket.
The Welcome Project, formerly Welcome2Sydney, was launched on Tuesday at Bankstown Oval and is a community engagement program designed to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion for newcomers and provides opportunities to create friendships, build social connections and bridge the cultural divide as they settle into their new home.
This isn't about finding the next Rashid Khan. The project matches newcomers with everyday Australians with SSI volunteers (welcome ambassadors) helping individual and families develop a sense of belonging by exploring the city and taking part in social, cultural and recreational activities.
SSI chief executive Violet Roumeliotis said their mission is to help create a more "inclusive society" in which everyone can "meaningfully contribute" to social, cultural, civic and economic life.
"Cricket can be utilised as a launch pad for meaningful social connection and as a vehicle for supporting our Afghan evacuees to reach successful settlement outcomes across the whole spectrum of their lives," she said.
Speaking at the launch, Mrs Ward said since late August, NSW has opened its arms to around 1000 evacuees from Afghanistan.
"It is wonderful to see some of them have the opportunity to enjoy a peaceful game of cricket in their new backyard," she said.
"No matter where you are from, sport brings everyone together and this is a wonderful way we can make them feel welcome."
Afghan refugee Tahir Sadeq arrived in Australia with his wife and children in September and was at the launch event which saw participants take part in a series of cricket-related activities led by Cricket NSW community cricket coaches.
"I like watching cricket and like the sport. It's something you do with family and friends," Mr Sadeq said.
Cricket Australia's executive general manager of community cricket James Allsopp said he hopes this is the beginning of a long-term partnership with SSI.
"Through our shared love of cricket there is a real opportunity not only for Australian cricket clubs to help Afghan evacuees rebuild their lives, but for those clubs to be enriched by the inclusion of those they embrace," Mr Allsopp said.
"Cricket clubs are at the heart of their local communities and can provide both a welcoming environment and the chance to build the strong relationships that help ease the resettlement process."
Cricket NSW chief executive Lee Germon said cricket clubs provide a "safe, inclusive and welcoming" environment for anyone looking to meet people, make friends and participate in a healthy activity.
"Australians and Afghans share a common love of cricket and it's our hope that those new to our shores will find a supportive home within the NSW cricket community," Mr Germon said.
"Cricket NSW looks forward to working with Settlement Services International to help residents to transition into their new surrounds through the power of cricket and our communities, as we look to inspire everyone to play and love cricket."