As Karwhin recalls his time in Ivory Coast, you get lip-tied because this young man remembers running for his life at the age of two (2). Karwhin Obed found a way to Australia with his mother and brother at the age of eight (8), escaping the war-torn Ivory Coast.
"I'm not kidding man," he says. "I can still remember witnessing it, running away from war twice, at the age of two and five years old."
For most kids, the journey through the rugby league ranks is a long and arduous one. For some, like Obed Karwhin, the road set before them is far longer, far more challenging and far more distressing.
The Ivory Coast native will run from the sheds of ANZ Stadium onto the field for the first time this Friday afternoon after being named by Wests Tigers under-20s coach Brett Kimmorley to make his Holden Cup debut. But 15 years ago, he was running from something else.
"When I was five, we spent one month in the jungle trying to walk from Ivory Coast to Guinea to get away from the war. And because countries are so small and close to each other, it's like walking from Sydney to Melbourne. But it took us one month” ~ Karwhin Obed.
The transformation of Karwhin from African refugee to Wests Tigers player should probably be the proudest moment for African communities in Australia and the Blacktown PCYC manager Steve Warwick's coaching career, who has worked very hard to this day to mentor, support and train this young man. In fact what started with the tutelage of one African kid has turned into the game's first all-African rugby league team: Africa United.
"I'm not going to say it so I get the praise, but I was the first African person he knew, and then I introduced him to more African people. And that's how the African thing started coming," Karwhin says.
Then one African player turned into three all-African rugby league teams.
"I was involved in the first African team to play, which was a great experience. I will never forget about that. Even though we were unlucky on many occasions and never won, putting on the African jersey meant the world to me," Karwhin says.
Three teams then turned into an invitation to an international tournament in Queensland a few years ago, and then an invitation to a memorable Harmony Cup Touch Football tournament victory in Redfern last October.
Now Warwick and the Blacktown PCYC will find out whether they will be awarded a $10,000 grant as part of the Champions of the West program on Wednesday – money that could fund the game's first African-Australian rugby league academy, based in rugby league's heartland of western Sydney. In other words, a place where they can help more people like Karwhin.
"For these kids, it's a great opportunity for them to get their mind off the things that they saw in Africa – all the war and drama. It's also good to keep them away from trouble, keep them in school, keep them fit and active. It's possible for everyone, whether you're playing reps or you're just playing park football. Rugby league should be enjoyable for everyone and I think PCYC is doing that at the moment. Where I'm from, kids will witness some form of violence. Rugby league, I reckon, will be the best sport for them because it's hard, it's tough, physically. It can also get their mind off the past. It helped me to get my mind off. It's something I will never forget, but at the same time, playing rugby league gets all the trouble out of my head." Karwhin Obed.
Warwick believes rugby league has given the African community in western Sydney an identity.
"For a lot of them, it has," he says.
"You can see it shape them into different people. I look at some of the background that they've come from, and some of the things that they may have been through... here, their focus is on the game. They make a lot of new friends, the people that they decide to associate with; it just makes them a better person. And they love it. They love being included." Steve Warwick
Warwick met Karwhin through a mutual friend after arriving in Australia and since then, they remained close and worked together.
"He was very nice. I started playing for PCYC at the age of 14 and he started mentoring me since then. He also helped me through my ups and downs, because I was getting rejected by Parramatta Eels for three years in a row, but he never let me put my head down. He always encouraged me. He was always there to help. And I was always helping him. We basically started a club together, because after he met me, I introduced all the African kids, I started bringing them to the club. That was how we started forming together to form a big club”: Africa United Rugby League.
“Warwick is doing a fantastic job not only giving young Africans their identity within the sport industry; he is bringing healing to their inner beings, giving them hope, building their self-esteem, rescuing our families and the larger Australian communities by taking kids off the street; engaging within them within the space they love”, says Mercy Akongo - This Life Foundation.
This Life Foundation is hopeful of the future, and we invite every development partner partnership with the African-Australian Rugby League Academy to build hope and a future for disdvantaged people in our communities. You can decide to donate just a $1 every week or $5, $10, $100 or even much more either as one-off or longterm partner to help Steve and Karwhin build the African-Australian rugby league academy.
Last week's PlayNRL round marked the official weekend on the calendar where the game celebrates junior rugby league. But for Karwhin, he'll be celebrating long after that.
"Steve played a big part in my life as a rugby league player. He helped me a lot through the way, that's something I'll always be grateful for," he said.
As Karwhin plays for West Tigers, he will also be volunteering as a coach for the African-Australian Rugby League Academy. Having experienced this stuff before; Karwhin says that he knew how hard it was for Steve to establish the African team and he is ready to help him as a coach to make things easier for Steve at the African-Australian Rugby League Academy."
This Life Foundation seeks to support, empower and mentor young African-Australians lacking moral support in Australia through trainings, mentorship and exchange visits. Our aim is to foster development at personal, family, communities and to facilitate collaboration between young people in the Diaspora and those in Africa; and to engage them in shaping and influencing effective leadership and good governance in the continent.
The African Academy is a great project that will bring changes not only to the African communities but to the mainstream Australian communities which should be embraced by everyone.
For more information on how to participate, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for taking time to read this and greetings from us.
This Life Foundation
This story was first written and published on NRL website by Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent, check it out at;