Seneca College soccer star and father of three, Atif Ali, experienced a difficult childhood as he fled from Somalia at a young age with his family, first to Kenya and then to Qatar where he started earning money to support his family. His path to Canada wasn’t easy either as he was a refugee.
Atif's Early Life
The 34-year-old, who is currently in his fourth year studying computer science, described his childhood as very hard. He lived in a small village in Somalia, where his clan would perpetually get bullied by bigger clans who forcibly took their belongings. On top of that, he lost his father at a young age.
“So, I was born in Somalia. While growing up I can still remember and see the chaotic scenes that like the bigger clans used to come to our clan. We are one of the minor ones. And they used to come in and take away our stuff. We never lived in peace,” said Ali. He also added “We didn't enjoy the privileges of going to education or even Visiting advanced hospitals because of the situation and our big being minority in Somalia at that time. And also, the saddest news is when we had that our father passed away, and we had to move to Kenya.”
Ali’s struggles only got worse once he moved to Kenya because he and his family didn’t possess the proper documentation, so his mom was constantly hiding and avoiding authorities. They could acquire documents, but they were usually expensive. His mom was the only source of revenue, so it was difficult. Ali was 5-years-old at the time so he was unable to help.
“…I saw my mother having a lot of difficulties hiding away from the authorities, because we didn't have valid documents, it was so hard to get valid documents,” said Ali.
A Massive Opportunity to Improve Life
Kenya wasn’t all doom and gloom because, by the age of 16-17, Ali had his big break as agents from Qatar were present in one of his soccer matches. They were so impressed that they signed him for a team in Qatar. However, his documentation was still an issue at the time. A Qatari man named Saladin, stepped in to resolve this by producing illegitimate passports and making Ali his son. Ali moved to Qatar with his wife who was a family friend.
Ali was now doing what he loved as a job but above all, he was able to send money back to his mom who was still in Kenya at the time. However, although his life drastically improved, he began to feel threatened by his situation. He realized that he was at the mercy of his “father” Saladin, who could expose Ali at any moment if he made a mistake. At the time, the soccer club that Ali was playing for was holding his passport and documentation. This is similar to how migrant workers had their passports confiscated by their managers before the world cup.
”I was playing soccer and earning. So that was amazing because I was doing something I loved and getting money. But the money I had to send back to my mom to support her,” said Ali. He added “but it wasn't even the same because, in Qatar, I was living in someone's else name, right? Because he was not my real father. And up to some point, it threatened me like if I did something wrong, they could just cancel my visa.”
Ali and his wife had two kids in Qatar but with the crises in 2017, he took his family back to Kenya. This process affected Ali greatly as he was pondering where he would now live in Kenya, and where his kids would attend school. However, after an arduous process, he was able to migrate to Canada with his wife and two kids. He had his third child in Canada.
Coming to Canada
Even when Ali came to Canada his love for soccer didn’t stop. While he and his wife were attending adult high school, he was playing soccer. Ali was so good that he was approached by a coach who recommended him to Patrice Kaiser. Due to that, he was given a scholarship and was able to attend Seneca College.
Ali, who is the captain of Seneca’s soccer team, has won multiple awards such as OCCA, East division player of the year, and CCA all Canadian. In a short period, he achieved what many dream of. Ali says that winning these awards was inspiring.
“When these awards came in all the hard work paid off, and I was so happy. The other thing is, you know, I have young ones that when they see those awards, it's like inspiration. It's an inspiration, I guess you have to them to show that even at this age or at any age if you put in the hard work, you can achieve what's impossible,” Ali said.
Ali is also very involved in Seneca as he is part of the supported learning groups also known as SLG, where he tutors others who need help with difficult courses.
Ali has been playing soccer since he was 6-7 years old. He began playing the sport in his village when all the kids would gather and play. It was a sport that gave him happiness even with a difficult life.
Ali is in his final year at Seneca College and is about to finish his Bachelor of Science.