For an African family of eight the integration period of a new life in England can seem everlasting.
Dad Mohammad Ouattara, from the Ivory Coast and his Guinean wife, have six girls including two sets of twins and moved to Newcastle’s West End in 2008. The French-speaking family moved from the Ivory Coast due to civil unrest and to find a better quality of life for their children.
With the strain of the language barrier, finding work, suitable housing and schools, the experience would overawe many families. Yet an introduction to the Olympic sport of judo saw the children flourish in their new surroundings.
While all six children have practiced the sport at some stage, three daughters in particular have become fascinated by the sport.
Twin sisters Harjiratou and Zalikhatou Ouattara, 13, along with younger sister Bachirou, 10, started judo at their respective schools, Excelsior Academy and St Michael’s Primary School, in September 2009 and ever since have been practicing judo.
Newburn Judo Club and Newcastle’s judo coach Joe Laws initially entered the girls’ schools to deliver a programme funded by Comic Relief which provided an opportunity for the girls to try their hand at the Olympic sport.
As part of the Premier League 4 Sport programme - which sees each Premiership side stage satellite clubs which offer judo, badminton, table tennis and volleyball - the three sisters went on to pursue judo at Newcastle’s satellite club within Sacred Heart School.
After missing a handful of sessions their future participation was sealed when Joe Laws, who was overseeing the satellite club, returned to the twin sisters’ school to deliver another programme. The much-admired coach saw them in the corridor and asked for them to pass his number onto their dad and call him regarding their judo and to hear what the sport can offer them.
Dad Mohammad was very keen to see his daughters reap the benefits of judo as they made new friends, developed their fitness and regularly participated in a fun and challenging activity in a safe and friendly environment.
All three have since shown a natural ability for the sport, having advanced from the white belt they started with to the grading scheme’s next colour of red and have medalled at regional events. Their progress has led them all to attend the highly-regarded Newburn Judo Club on a weekly basis.
“We have always been involved in sport but never judo, we thought getting involved would be a good way for us to express ourselves as individuals,” said Harjiratou.
“Judo has also helped us to meet new friends and overcome our shyness and helped us socially as we have met lots of new friends but more importantly it has helped us feel more confident in our day-to-day lives.
“We want to act as role models for other girls and encourage them to join judo clubs as the sport has taught us so much, we would also like to compete nationally which will take a lot of hard work and dedication.”
Dad Mohammed Ouattara said: “It’s fantastic that the girls are part of such a successful project, I have been very impressed with the standard of judo I have seen and have realised my girls have the potential to go a long way in the sport with dedication and hard work.”
Newburn Judo Club’s Head Coach Joe Laws believes he’s fortunate to teach such hard-working children.
“These girls have come into the sport with no experience and they’ve flourished on and off the mat. They’ve been a pleasure to teach and their dad is very keen on them practicing the sport as he’s aware of the social and health benefits.
“Their English is improving all the time and despite not always understanding what I say they always grasp things from a demonstration and still manage to interact well with the other children.”
Lisa Bell, Newcastle’s Premier League 4 Sport Coordinator, said: “We hope the Ouattara sisters will inspire lots of girls to try new sports.
“Through the Premier League 4 Sport programme Newcastle United are helping hundreds of children to keep fit and active through engaging in sports such as judo.”
Daniel Griffin, Children and Young People Development Manager at British Judo, said: “This is a fantastic example of what we are working towards for the Premier League 4 Sport programme. We have challenged all the football clubs to support our overall strategy; this includes getting more women and girls playing and volunteering in judo.”
“Newburn Judo Club has completely embraced this programme and it could not have been as successful without the hard work and dedication from Joe and everybody at the club.”
“Their dad Mohammad also loves that his children have a chance to travel and enter competitions right across the Britain.”
The British Judo Association is the National Governing Body for the Olympic Sport of judo in Great Britain.
Newburn Judo Club train at the Newburn Activity Centre, Grange Road, NE15 8ND. Men and women train on Monday at 20:30 – 21:45 while there’s a mixed session for girls and boys on Thursday at 17:00 – 18:30.
photos Janos Schmidt