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Student Launches New Sports Programme for Young Refugees

As a 15-year-old refugee from Pakistan, Ali Muhammad-Jawad knows first-hand how isolated he felt as a sports-mad teenager arriving in a new country six years ago.

Ali Muhammad-Jawad

Now a third-year UCOL Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise and Wellness) student, Ali is using his academic might in an effort to rectify that situation for young Palmerston North-based refugees.

Ali has been awarded $6,400 in funding from Tū Manawa Active Aotearoa through Sport Manawatu, to facilitate his programme that improves access to sport for refugees.

Ali made the grant application on behalf of New Zealand Red Cross and worked collaboratively with UCOL’s Exercise & Wellness Department and Sport Manawatu. While COVID-19 has delayed their start, Ali is proud to have their first event kicking off on the 17 September.

The four multisport events will take place on Fridays at the Queen Elizabeth College gymnasium, giving an introduction to a variety of sports including basketball, football, netball, frisbee, and touch rugby. There will also be two outdoor sessions, covering orienteering and a nature walk with local guides.

The programme is aimed at youth (boys 14-18 years and girls from 14-22 years). Ali hopes getting young people involved in sport will filter through to other members of their families.

Ali arrived in New Zealand with his mother and younger siblings in 2015. It was through his attendance at Awatapu College that Ali was able to participate in the U-Skills programme one day per week at UCOL. “I loved the environment at UCOL and enjoyed having the freedom of expression. After completing the NZ Certificate in Study and Careers Preparation (Level 3), I was able to pursue my dream of a career in sport.”

Ali soon discovered during his degree studies that his strengths lay in academic administration, rather than the gym, so he selected the Sport and Recreation Management major.

As an active sportsman and a football referee, Ali knows how valuable activity and social interaction is. “Refugees quite rightly put a big emphasis on education when they come to a new country, but physical and mental wellbeing is equally important,” he says.

UCOL Senior Lecturer – Exercise and Wellness Michael Mann, says Ali has worked independently and within a very tight timeframe.

“For a third-year student to complete such a detailed grant application in his placement is a significant achievement. I am very proud of his proactive approach, and it shows what our undergraduates can achieve when they tackle real life/work situations.”


UCOL Ltd is part of Te Pūkenga, New Zealand’s largest tertiary education provider, and globally, the 30th largest provider of vocational education. Together, we aim to provide excellent quality education opportunities that support learners, employers and communities to gain the skills, knowledge and capabilities Aotearoa needs now and for the future.

Across the country, approximately 280,000 people are participating in some form of vocational education and training, supported by about 10,000 full time staff.

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