Australia Rising tennis stars promote value of sporting opportunities for migrant and refugee children
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The work ethic of migrant parents inspires Australia's top tennis stars Lizette Cabrera and Priscilla Hon.
The pair are on the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tour, but they have more than just a love of the game in common as both were raised by parents who migrated to Australia.
Cabrera and Hon want to raise awareness and be role models for children with similar backgrounds, encouraging others to get involved in a local sporting club.
When Cabrera took to Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne last month, the world number 140 had not known how she would stack up against world number two Simona Halep.
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The 23-year-old — who's currently ranked 6th in Australia — said despite the loss she had learnt so much from her opponent, who went on to progress to the Australian Open semi-final.
"It was really good to watch it back and learn from it," Cabrera said.
Her debut on Rod Laver Arena was a far cry from her humble beginnings as a junior growing up in Townsville in North Queensland.
It was her parents, who migrated to Australia from the Philippines, who inspired Cabrera to first pick up a racquet.
"My parents really loved tennis and as soon as my dad could put a racquet in my hand he did, and from the age of four-and-a-half, I've loved it ever since," she said.
While she has now made a professional career out of her beloved sport, Cabrera recalled the earlier days when her parents worked at the local abattoir to fund her sporting pursuits.
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"They made a lot of sacrifices for me and I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them," Cabrera said.
"They made sure that every week with my tennis lessons that we would save enough money to make sure that I could go and enjoy and have a good life."
Tennis also presented opportunities for 22-year-old Priscilla Hon, who is also on the international circuit and is ranked 132nd in the world.
Her parents — who migrated from Hong Kong in 1996 — made sure she was exposed to every sport she wanted to try.
"I played every single sport there was — I did swimming, running," she said.
"I started travelling Europe when I was 12 and there's no way I would have been able to do that if I didn't play tennis."
'Knowing where to go'
Multicultural Australia said it feared there was still a large proportion of migrant children in Australia who were not given the same opportunities.
The organisation's CEO Christine Castley said local clubs needed to understand the cultural and languages differences that were among the many challenges for migrants and refugees.
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"Cost is often a big issue and knowledge being able to access programs and knowing where to go," Ms Castley said.
While research was lacking, the organisation said it was concerned about 51 per cent of Australian-born children regularly participated in "leisure activities", compared with just 25 per cent of children born overseas.
That is why Multicultural Australia is launching a pilot program in south-east Queensland to sponsor up to 1,000 participants to try a new sport over the next two years.
"We work with the clubs who are very, very keen to welcome new participants, particularly from migrant backgrounds," Ms Castley said.
Athletes would be given a four-week introduction into sports like AFL, soccer, tennis and netball to help them assimilate into local clubs and sporting groups.
"We're starting with a focus in south-east Queensland, but as we sign up more clubs, and we're absolutely keen to participate with clubs right throughout the state, in regional communities, and we can get out to some of those rural areas," Ms Castley said.
Athletes like Cabrera and Hon would be ambassadors for the project, alongside netballer Romelda Aiken, AFL star Cam Ellis-Yolman and A-League goal keeper Jamie Young.
"For me, tennis has created a lot of amazing opportunities, amazing friendships," Cabrera said.
"I've been able to travel and do things that maybe I wouldn't have been able to do if I didn't play sport."
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