This International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, we are sharing stories of how the power of sport, as part of a mentoring relationship, can help promote equality and understanding. According to the UN, “Sport as a universal language can be a powerful tool to promote peace, tolerance and understanding by bringing people together across boundaries, cultures and religions. Its intrinsic values such as teamwork, fairness, discipline, respect for the opponent and the rules of the game are understood all over the world and can be harnessed in the advancement of solidarity, social cohesion, and peaceful coexistence.”
Coach Hemon Waling is emblematic of the incredible individuals that have chosen to serve their community through Up2Us Sports. Like the majority of Up2Us Sports coaches, Waling serves in the community where he grew up, which is a unique aspect of the Up2Us Coach program that helps foster trust and build meaningful relationships across the United States. But if you know Hemon, working anywhere other than Baltimore was never an option; he sees far too much of himself in these children to go elsewhere.
Hemon was born in a refugee camp in Nepal to Bhutanese parents. In 2008, he arrived in Baltimore as a twelve-year-old who couldn’t speak English but was determined to succeed in his new country. An avid soccer fan, he was naturally drawn to the local Soccer Without Borders program, a sports-based youth development program that primarily works with immigrant and refugee children. Hemon credits the program with helping him make friends and aiding him in his quest to learn English. Simply by playing his favorite sport, he found a sense of belonging in a foreign country and gradually gained confidence in his English abilities. When Hemon graduated the program, he was not ready to cut ties with Soccer without Borders entirely; instead, he decided to join as a volunteer coach.
It was while serving as a volunteer coach that Hemon learned about the opportunity to join Up2Us Coach. After further exploration, he determined the program was a perfect fit. He would be able to continue working with Soccer Without Borders while also earning credit to continue his education. So in 2016, he attended the Up2Us Sports National Training Institute and joined as a part-time coach. The following year, he took his involvement one step further and became a full-time coach through Up2Us Coach at Soccer Without Borders.
When asked about his decision to serve for the second year, Hemon explained that he sees his service as a form of giving back to the program that was so impactful in his own life. He shared a story of a player he coaches named Asper, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. When she first arrived on his team, Asper spoke no English and felt isolated – something that Hemon could relate to. Over the course of the season, Asper’s English improved and she became more and more engaged with the team. She even joked with Hemon that his new child – he and his wife are expecting this month – should be named after her.
Asper’s story is representative of the full circle that Hemon has taken in his involvement with the Soccer Without Borders program. He says that he now has a much greater appreciation for the impact his own coaches had on his life and the effort they put into the program.
Waling also feels that his training with Up2Us Sports has made him a more impactful coach. “It has helped me be better equipped to handle different situations, such as how to handle kids that just had an outburst or are crying. I coached before I had the Up2Us Sports training and, at the time, I always wished I knew how to handle these situations better. After experiencing the Up2Us Sports training, I now have more ideas and more ways to handle a situation,” he shared.
Hemon said that he wants to make use of his Up2Us Sports training and continue coaching children at Soccer Without Borders. It is not a stretch to say that each and every child he coaches, and the Baltimore community as a whole, is lucky to have Hemon Waling on the sidelines.
Up2Us Coach is the AmeriCorps national coaching program of nonprofit Up2Us Sports. It is the first national service program to identify and train young adults to coach and mentor kids in low-income communities. Coach Hemon completed his service term as an Up2Us Coach at Soccer Without Borders in February 2018. He now works part-time for Soccer Without Borders and another SBYD organization, Soccer Shots.