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Syrian refugee on Michael Davitts hurling team capturing hearts after escaping Aleppo hell

 

By Declan Bogue

Little Muhammad Al Haj Kadour speaks with the diction of a Syrian, but the accent is heading fast for thick west Belfast as he names all his friends on the Michael Davitts hurling team, for whom he made a goal-scoring debut last weekend with the under-10s.

"There's Ógie, there's Pádraig, there's Declan," he lists from his own friends, then continues: "There are a lot of people I know, but then a lot of people in P6 and P7 I don't know their name."

After he hit the back of the net against St Gall's last weekend, plenty have been captivated by the narrative of the political refugee from just outside Aleppo and his seamless transition to Belfast life, which proves once more that sport is a universal language among children.

The club PRO posted up a picture of Muhammad holding his hurl in the 'ready' position, which is approaching 1,000 retweets and over 2,200 favourites on Twitter. The feel-good factor to the story cannot be underestimated.

Now, Muhammad is preparing to make his bow in the other code, Gaelic football, this weekend.

It's been quite a journey, from war-torn Syria, to Lebanon for three years, before arriving as part of a wave of immigrants to the United Kingdom.

Muhammad's eldest brother Mourad explains: "We came to Belfast in 5th of December, 2015 (and) live in the Lower Falls now.

"Belfast… if I tried to tell you what I felt, I cannot explain that in English. It has been a very good city for us. It has very friendly people, it is a great people, I think."

Life in Aleppo was the nightmare that you can so vividly imagine given the news coverage of that region.

"It was very dangerous," explains Mourad.

"A very, very bad time for us. Always there were bombs and it was always dangerous.

"We lived for a time when there were a lot of killings there. I can't tell you, we lost many friends, many neighbours. We lost our house, we lost everything over there."

Now Muhammad lives with his three brothers, Mourad who is 22, 17-year-old Omar and 15-year-old Ahmad, along with their father Monzur and mother Mouna.

The family trade was stonemasonry, which Mourad and Monzur worked at until they fled Syria. Both men have been guided onto courses to improve their English and they are seeking work in stonemasonry or bricklaying.

They are captivated by the exploits of Muhammad in this sport that they had no idea of before they became residents in the Lower Falls.

Mourad explains: "He likes watching and he likes playing. He is always playing on the street. I always tell him it is not alright to play in the street. But he likes to play, always, all the time!"

The other day, Muhammad's youth team coach Micheál ÓBoyle called up to the family home to meet the youngster's folks.

"They welcomed me with open arms and they have a smile on their faces," he relates.

"A smile tells a lot about a person, I think. All I said to them was, 'I am sure you are glad to be in Belfast!' And they were welcomed by the wider community in the Lower Falls area."

Throughout the various local schools, the Davitts club have concentrated on nurturing local talent through coaching officer Mickey Hughes. He goes along weekly to Muhammad's St Clare's school and that's how the young Syrian became bewitched by hurling.

"The child is always very responsive and very attentive, and also a pleasure to coach," explains ÓBoyle of Muhammad's nature and willingness to learn.

Such is his growing confidence that he is now part of a local youth club, expanding his circle of friends and helping the family bed into the local fabric.

As ÓBoyle states: "There seems to be no issues at all in this area in terms of integrating with the local community."

He repeats that everyone is welcome along to the club, no matter their religion, ethnicity or political persuasion.

"The hand of friendship should be open to all communities," he says. "Whatever ethnic minority you are from or even the larger religions here."

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