Empathy Can End Mass Atrocities, Part II: Creating Change through the Global Sports Community
Part of a three-part blog series by iACT Chief Operating Officer Katie-Jay Scott on the power of empathy to address trauma and empower people affected by mass-atrocities. Read Part I: How early childhood education creates a generation of empathic leaders
Refugees United Soccer Academy (RUSA) is a MOVEMENT for HOPE. The Academy provides refugee boys and girls, ages six to thirteen, whose families have been displaced by extreme violence, a safe space to play and learn about teamwork, leadership, and peacebuilding, all while improving soccer skills. iACT trains and employs two male and two female refugees to serve as the leaders and coaches of each Academy. The Academy also serves as a way to connect refugee children and youth with soccer players and clubs across the U.S. and globally.
RUSA is rooted in strength-based coaching, equality, inclusion, respect, and a uniting passion for soccer. The program is built upon three pillars:
- Peace: The Academy atmosphere, language, and player management are grounded in nonviolence. This creates a safe environment for trauma recovery, social-emotional development, and a more caring and empathetic community.
- Helping: Offering support to others is essential in life and in soccer. Helping is inherent in a community that values equality. Personal growth comes from overcoming challenging situations by working with others toward a common goal.
- Sharing: Teams and communities become exponentially stronger when individuals share their strengths and resources. Caring for and giving to others, on and off the field, creates unity and promotes a nurturing environment in which everyone can thrive.
On the field, Academy Coordinator for eastern Chad and Cameroon, Coach Souliman says that he sees positive changes in the players. Most players, Souliman said, could barely dribble a ball through a line of cones when the Academy first started. But since launching the program in camp Goz Amer in 2015, both boys and girls have significantly improved in the fundamentals of dribbling, passing and receiving, and they have a better understanding of the game of soccer.
Also, Souliman adds, the children are gaining more than just soccer skills; through the Academy, Souliman explains how children are building relationships with peers from all over the camp and learning about each other. “Before, the children in the camps stayed in their ‘blocks’ and with the people around them. They did not know a lot of other children. Now, children from all over the camp play together, they mix, and they come to know each other and be friends. That is, I think, important for the future of our community.”
Though it is off the field, through self-directed effort, where the coaches have grown their fame and expanded the impact of the Academy. Souliman proudly describes how he and the coaches support and protect the children, even when they are not at the Academy. “For example, if one of our players has malaria and they are sick, we will visit their home, speak with their family and make sure the child is okay.” If a player is having trouble in school or if the coaches see or hear that something bad has happened to him or her, Souliman and the coaches are there for the child as mentors and facilitators. “We make sure to give extra support for every child that participates in the Academy. And because of this, mothers tell us, thank you.”
The Academy Sister Club program creates a global connection between youth players and their families and our RUSA players living thousands of miles away in the refugee camps in Cameroon and Chad. Players write letters and draw pictures, and facilitate equipment drives for balls, scrimmage jerseys, cones, ladders, pop-up goals, and first aid supplies. They also support their peers with a donation of $10 a year through their club dues which supports a refugee girl or boy for an entire year at the Academy.
Honolulu Galaxy in Honolulu, HI is just one of iACT’s Sister Clubs who contributes more than $3,000 each year in order to support Refugees United Soccer Academy. Galaxy players facilitate equipment drives, send personal notes, and videos to their peers in the camps. Through the beautiful game of soccer and the relationships fostered between the deserts of eastern Africa and Sweden, Hawaii, and California, athletes are growing up to know that they not only a part of a global community but have the responsibility to protect and advocate for peace within it.
Interested in joining the Sister Club program?
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