Most people in Langley, British Columbia, are unaware that a new sport has been introduced to their town. Sepak takraw or “cane ball” is a cross between soccer and volleyball. Players may use any part of their bodies, except their hands, to hit a ball over a net.
Margaret Kunst, a member of Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Langley, is helping Karen kids from Burma introduce the sport to Langley.
Kunst is the director of PuCKS (Promoting Community through Kids in Sport), a local organization committed to promoting physical health and building confidence in refugee youth through sport and recreation.
“It was apparent that the [Karen] children were, and would be, at risk—coming with minimal life skills, having lived their entire lives within the confines of refugee camps in Thailand,” said Kunst.
Kunst also accepted the challenge to help introduce cane ball. “I learned about cane ball and was hooked from the first kick.”
An indigenous sport for the Karen people of Burma, the ball was originally made of cane, hence the name.
The Karen youth have formed their own teams, introduced the sport to local schools and groups, and participated in a national tournament that reunited them with fellow Karen from other parts of Canada.
“It is so rewarding to see the kids have the opportunity to be the teachers and have people ask them how to do something and to be impressed by their playing skill and what they have to offer,” said Kunst.
Recently two of the Karen kids were invited to play on Immanuel CRC’s soccer team. When they played their first two games, the team won both, with the Karen kids scoring all the goals.
“It has been really hard to connect the kids to youth in the church community because of language and cultural differences,” said Kunst. “To see them light it up on the soccer field and to see the kids cheer for them and one of them get picked up and hugged because he scored a goal . . . so cool.”
Kunst said she became involved with the Karen community when she was a deacon several years ago. “I had no idea what God had planned. I thought I was just going to help with shopping, visiting, and meeting some immediate physical needs.”
A plan to help settle two families has turned into involvement with a community that has grown to more than 1,000 Karen people in four years.