KUALA LUMPUR: Weekends at a muddy football pitch in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, 25 members of the Rohingya Football Club (RFC) are training hard for a national tournament, coming up in April.
Rohingya refugee Mohd Farouque, 22, who co-founded the club with team mates in 2015, is cherishing every moment on the field.
"We never had that chance to meet with each other to play friendly matches, we never had that chance back in Myanmar."
Farouque and some of his team mates fled from Rakhine state in northwest Myanmar over a decade ago to Malaysia, where more than 56,000 Rohingya are registered with the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
Rohingya are stateless and they are not allowed to work legally in the country and have no access to healthcare and education.
But Farouque, who co-founded the Rohingya Football Club two years ago, has big plans to change how Rohingya are perceived. He wants the RFC to represent the Rohingya community at the confederation of international football associations and play on the world stage one day.
The flag of the Rohingya Football Club (C). (Photo: Melissa Goh)
"We want to show the world that Rohingya also have talent as well, we have skills,” he said. “When we go to the field to play football, we keep our confidence that we can win … If we try our best to win the game of course we can."
The club's best striker, Faruk Yousuf is tasked with delivering the goals for the Rohingya and it is a heavy responsibility in more ways than one for the 24-year-old striker who works as translator for an international NGO.
"I feel inspired, I feel motivated when I am on the pitch. It's challenging for me, I have to fight for it. I can't give up, I have to push myself more and work hard."
Faruk was born in Malaysia. His parents came from Myanmar decades ago, and he idolises Cristiano Ronaldo. He said he will do anything to become the first Rohingya professional footballer.
Meanwhile construction worker Dil Mohd is proud to be the official referee of the football club despite having no shoes. "I look forward to coming here weekends because I feel at home," he said.
Rohingya Football Club official referee Dil Mohd. (Photo: Melissa Goh)
Dil does not speak a word in English and is learning to converse in the local Malay language.
Still, there's nothing stopping the Rohingya community in Kuala Lumpur from coming together on a weekend to cheer for their team which plays with so much passion and pride for the Rohingya identity.
With the motto 'A small club with a big dream', the RFC is fast gaining popularity. They came in third in a local tournament last year after having defeated more than 10 teams, and this year they promise to outdo the rest with their hard work in order to win more sponsorships.