87. Samatar Yusuf

16 Jun

Samatar Yusuf - Edited H - BW

When I first met Samatar Yusuf, I asked him to describe himself. ‘Community oriented’ and ‘passionate’, he said. But the more I got to know the 23 year-old, the more I realised these adjectives were huge understatements.

The Heidelberg West local has got a long list of achievements under his belt already, and it all revolves around one sentiment – helping others in his community thrive.

This passion to help and drive to get it done were instilled in him from a young age, playing a sport he holds close to his heart – soccer.

“I’ve been playing soccer for the Heidelberg Stars since primary school. I kept playing throughout the years and then when I reached a senior level, [the club] offered for me to spend some time with the junior players, not in a full role, but a support role, bringing out equipment on the days they trained and supporting them on match days,” Samatar said.

He said from there, the club started to properly notice him, and eventually asked if he would like to coach a team of his own – a prospect that was initially terrifying to Samatar.

“At the start I was like ‘no I can’t do that, that’s massive responsibility’, but over the years I’d seen what the other coaches were doing and learned from them,” he said.

So he said yes, and before he knew it, was coaching a team of under 12s. He admitted that the first season “wasn’t the best”, but said it was more about getting to know the team and bonding with them. The longer he did it, the more he fell in love with it and he began thinking about the future and committing to coaching long term.

How quickly Samatar adapted to his new role and the passion that was exuding out of him became clear to the club, and he was invited to join the sub committee. Soon after, he was asked to join the actual committee, a role he described as eye opening.

He said seeing how reliant the club was on volunteers made him realise the true value of volunteering.

“If you’re a volunteer, you’re not getting paid, but you still have that responsibility that if you’re meant to do something, you should do it like you’re being paid because that person is relying on you,” he said.

Almost seven years later and Samatar is still heavily involved in the club, but in mid-2018 he decided to take things to the next level.

“[A group of friends and I] were thinking about how we could support the young kids with their education on top of them loving soccer, because all the kids wanted to do was play, play, play. If you told them they were playing Monday to Sunday, they’d be happy with that, but their parents wanted them to do their homework, so we were thinking about how we could do both,” he said.

So along came the idea to launch Bright Young Minds Australia.

“We bring kids together on weekends, and before they start the sport or activity, we support them with their homework, to ease the pressure on parents. We also helped them with cultural stuff that they hadn’t learned yet, like integrating the Australian and Somali culture,” he said.

Initially, they started with a small group of about 10-15 kids that they already knew, but eventually they began getting requests for more kids to join. They put their brains together to work out a way they could make it bigger and better and settled on the idea of approaching a local futsal centre to use a court there. And they were given the green light to go ahead.

“We did that for a good 10 weeks, and then the futsal centre came back and said ‘would you want to start a league?’. We started with 10-15 kids, then had 20, then 30, then all of a sudden we had a whole program,” he said.

And just when you thought Samatar couldn’t add anything more to his plate, he did just that.

At a soccer presentation night, he met the then president of the Somali Australian Council of Victoria, also known as SACOV, who gave Samatar an insight into what they did for the local and wider Victorian Somali community.

“[The president and I] bonded really well, and I saw myself in the kind of position he was in – spending lots of time in the community, advocating for the people in the community, so that’s how I got involved,” he said.

He said his role at SACOV was incredibly diverse and ranged from having someone come in needing help translating a letter, to organising events and camps. One of the biggest events he’s been involved in is Somali week Oceania, a soccer tournament that happens annually over the Christmas break that’s attended by “a good 2000 people”.

Last year, Samatar was awarded the Banyule Young Volunteer of the Year Award, in recognition of all of his local community work.

“It felt amazing, knowing all the hard work was finally recognised. It made me want to do more,” he said.

In amongst all of his volunteer work, Samatar works at the Banyule Council as a social enterprise and local jobs administration officer. The social enterprise aspect of the job entails supporting local businesses that have a social cause, for example a café that’s employing people with an intellectual disability. He described the employment side to the job as connecting with different businesses to get them to put on a lens of how they could support different people.

And as if life couldn’t get busier, he’s also in his first year of a Bachelor of Community Development degree at Deakin University.

“It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to study, but given all that I’ve been involved in, I think community’s where it’s at and I’ll see where that takes me,” he said.

But one thing’s for sure – he wants to be out and about helping those around him.

“My family migrated to Australia as refugees, so given that the opportunities and education was a bonus. When my parents came here, it was kind of like ‘work, work, work’. For them there wasn’t that room to focus on us [because] everything was about trying to get food on the table and now I see myself as trying to support young people who are in the same situation, and to kind of do the best I can in making positive change,” he said.

You can catch Samatar on the Noteworthy podcast here.

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Rod Cebellas

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