Soccer, the binding force for young refugees in U.S.

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While world leaders prepare to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly for a summit on the global refugee crisis, a U.S.-based nonprofit is trying to help young refugees integrate on the soccer field. Nathan Frandino reports.

Soccer, the binding force for young refugees in U.S.

When Heman Rai came to the U.S. in 2008, he couldn’t speak any English… but he knew all about soccer, so that’s where he began his journey as a new arrival.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) HEMAN RAI, 21-YEAR-OLD BHUTANESE REFUGEE BORN IN NEPAL, SAYING:

“You don’t have to know the language, each other’s language. You can just play and just have fun and make friends. It’s easy. You don’t have to know English or you don’t have to know the other person’s language. You just play.”

But over time the Bhutanese refugee from Nepal DID learn English and made friends on and off the pitch… with some coaching from U.S.-based nonprofit Soccer Without Borders.

Casey Thomas is the director of its Baltimore chapter.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) CASEY THOMAS, DIRECTOR OF SOCCER WITHOUT BORDERS – BALTIMORE, SAYING:

“Our mission is to use soccer as a vehicle for positive change, so trying to help newcomer youth, refugees, asylees and immigrants overcome the obstacles they face in terms of their growth, inclusion in their new communities and personal success either academically or just life in general.”

Inclusion of refugees remains a major challenge throughout the world, but in Baltimore, Thomas believes they’ve found a strategy that works.

In addition to soccer, the program offers afterschool classes in English, art and science.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) CASEY THOMAS, DIRECTOR OF SOCCER WITHOUT BORDERS – BALTIMORE, SAYING:

“All of the families that are kids are coming to from have a really high priority and have made so many sacrifices to have their kids achieve a better life for themselves and their families, so academic is a huge focus for the families and we in turn definitely prioritize supporting the academic success of our kids.”

Eritrean refugee Johne Teweldebirhan says that priority has translated into something beyond both soccer and school.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) JOHNE TEWELDEBIRHAN, 18-YEAR-OLD ERITREAN REFUGEE BORN IN SUDAN, SAYING:

“It’s a good program to help refugees and give them more and teach them how to respect each other and love each other.”

It’s a lesson Heman Rai says he is learning as well….and one that both young men say they hope to take with them long after the final whistle.

Tags : us, refugees, young, force, Binding, soccer

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