Ali was born in a suburb of Damascus in July 2005, long before mention of the Arab spring. He spent the first few years of life in a big home in a semi-rural area surrounded by all of the gorgeous sights and smells for which Damascus is famous. The garden and its lemon trees evoke especially fond memories for Ali as do the farm animals which he loved.
As far back as he can remember, he, his twin brother Fawaz and their friends played soccer. Ali had no way of knowing that his idyllic childhood would be irreversibly destroyed and his life forever changed when the Syrian war broke out in March 2011. After surviving all of the horrors of war for more than two years, Ali and his family fled to Lebanon to endure life in a refugee camp until they resettled in Canada in December 2015.
Ali had last been in a school at the age of 6. He entered school here in the middle of Grade 5 without one word of English. Ali’s most fervent hope after years of upheaval and uncertainty was to feel accepted and a sense of belonging. In spite of his friendly and outgoing nature, it was not easy for Ali to make new friends. Ali relied on the one friend he had always counted on: his soccer ball. His soccer ball helped Ali to ease out of isolation at recess and lunch when new friends would gather to play. Ali came to the attention of the school’s track coach. She encouraged him to try out. As she would relate to me later “Ali is a natural. He comes out and just runs in perfect form. He’s not here for every practice, but he just keeps getting faster and faster. In late October, Ali called his sponsor to ask her take him to a track meet. Imagine her surprise when she learned that it was the City-Wide Meet at the Etobicoke Centennial Field and her immense joy when Ali placed in the top 60 for Grade 6 boys.
In early 2017, Ali’s dream came true when Carl, a semi-pro soccer player, came into his life. Ali and Carl bonded over a soccer ball and became forever friends. Carl assisted Ali in joining his first league and mentored him on all aspects of the game on and off of the field. Carl helped Ali to build and improve technical skills and gain confidence in interactions with players and coaches to take the leap to join a big club. Ali was recognized as an exceptionally-gifted athlete and great team player who could and would play any position. For the three years, Ali’s life revolved around soccer. Ali was at his happiest playing soccer and going to watch his friend Carl play for Darby FC. One of the highlights for Ali was to have the opportunity to participate in a half-time show for the Toronto FC.
Sport continues to play a big role in Ali’s life and Ali dreams of being a professional soccer player.