They are my little brothers

Text: Jehanne Bergé - Photography: Johanna de Tessières

Every day of the week, 26-year-old Salah is at the club. When he isn’t training with his team, which plays in P4, which includes Fofana, Abdou and Victor, among others, he coaches the younger players or takes care of the young refugees.

On Wednesday evening, Salah is waiting for 10-year-old Ramzan from Chechnya. He drops him off at home in Wavre. A strong bond has formed between the two football enthusiasts.

Wednesday, 6pm. Ramzan, Orphée, Félix and Mahan’s training session is over. It is time to leave the club. The energetic little gang races to the white van, all of them getting inside in an instant whilst all of them bursting with laughter. « Calm down, boys. Have you all fastened your seatbelts? », asks Salah. The vehicle starts, a rap song resonates from the cockpit and the adrenaline slowly decreases.

The quiet force

Several times a week, Salah voluntarily drives the van back and forth across the Walloon Brabant province to fetch the kids at the Fedasil centre in Rixensart as well as stopping in Wavre to pick up Ramzan from his mother’s house. He also drives the boys from Woluwé-Saint-Pierre. The goal being to allow them to reach Kraainem FC in all safety. Identity controls, travel fees, unknown territories; getting around without the sufficient paperwork is far from easy. « Some of them aren’t in contact with their parents anymore, they came alone. Living at the centre clearly is the best part for them. When they talk about their journey here, it’s awful. After two weeks, I said I couldn’t go on driving them because it became too emotional for me. », he says behind the wheel.
But Salah decided to continue and invests himself in this role to the fullest. On the road and at the club, he tries his best to bring a little light to the atmosphere, by encouraging the kids and youngsters. « At home, I have four little sisters; the kids here, they are my little brothers. »

Early morning, on the road to Kraainem. Salah has come to pick up Ramzan at the Fedasil centre in Rixensart which welcomes refugee families.


The link between two worlds

In the van, the temporary calmness has already dissipated. Rememorating the training session, they discuss the various passes and speed exercises. « Run Ramzan, run », the voice of coach Randy still resonates …

In the backseat, the excitement has reached its climax, with juice cartons falling over, biscuit crumbs spreading on the seats and jokes that leaves everyone in stitches. To calm the kids down a bit, Salah has an idea, « We’re going to play the king of silence, first one to talk loses. » After several minutes, one of the children exclaims : « I’ve been asking myself, when it is night-time, where does the sun go ? » The lively discussion resumes, the topic this time around being light, sunrise and the origins of life. Salah smiles, hands on the steering wheel and an eye constantly on the rear-view mirror. In the back, the jokes just keep coming, suppressed laughter can be heard and the excitement bumps up to another level again. The driver raises his voice and the youngsters understand that they can’t cross the line anymore. Everyone has their place in the van, which acts as the link between two worlds.

Salah is talking with his mother and sister at their home in Overijse. ‘When it comes to sport, Salah is like a train without brakes,’ says his mum proudly. ‘Once he gets going, he just can’t stop!’

We arrive in Rixensart, where Félix, Orphée and Mahan get off. Presently, we’re heading towards Wavre to drop off Ramzan. Salah is beginning to know him quite well and, ever so slightly, watches over him. « The other day, I saw him doing an Instagram Live at 11pm so I told him to get to bed to be in shape for school ! »

When he’s not training or working with refugees, he’s coaching young players.

We have arrived. The young player meets up with his mother Milena. Hand on her heart, she confides : « I’m a little shy and don’t dare say it to Salah, but these journeys in the van have been helping me a lot »

Salah drove Marie-Claire from the Fedasil centre to the club in Kraainem and provided her with the right kit for her football training.