This summer, OnSide was tasked with running a soccer camp for refugee high school students, partnering with the International Rescue Committee and L.A.C.E.S. It was OnSide’s first time tackling something of this nature and it went extremely well. IRC had structured this camp as an academic English and Math review to help refugee students get caught up with high school standards and to provide extra review, as many of these 15 - 16 year old kids were not yet able to speak English or do some fundamental math. I organized a group of people to help volunteer in the classroom as teacher assistants, supporting them by providing one on one attention for kids who needed extra help and organizing small group projects. We could all tell from the first day that this was a driven group of kids who were motivated to get ahead, even just by the fact that they were ther. During one lesson about animals, Bilquis from Afghanistan put aside her self consciousness and continued to ask questions until she understood all the names; Jengis from Afghanistan was struggling with basic addition, so we gave him separate problems from the rest of the class, which was moving on to double digit subtraction, and he kept asking for more and more problems to practice with; even though we saw he was improving, he wanted to keep going. We started from basic 7+8 type problems, which many struggled with, and through a lot of hard work on the kids’ part they were able to jump into learning about negative numbers and multiplication and division. It was personally incredible to see the strides these kids were able to make in such a short amount of time without knowing very much English, or any at all, in some cases. They were able to learn topics that have taken me and my peers years to understand, and that really encompasses their ability and potential. To see the aptitude these kids possess to grasp difficult concepts, it’s easy to forget that they are the few that have been fortunate enough to achieve refugee status in the United States, while millions of kids similar to them are being denied this.
OnSide was asked to organize and run a soccer program for the camp. I had several meetings with IRC and L.A.C.E.S to discuss what would work best, and as a result developed a three-part curriculum consisting of static and dynamic warmups; passing, shooting dribbling and vision drills; and scrimmages. As incredible as it was to see these kids working in the classroom, our friendships were really formed on the soccer field. Some days we played on a beautiful turf field, other days it was far too hot so we played on the front grass field, and a couple of days we played in the gym. None of the kids really liked doing the drills, but it was important to teach them skills, and by the end of the camp they had improved their technical abilities enormously. Jengis came into the camp unable to identify a 1-2 pass, but left able to analyze and execute one perfectly. At first, whenever Ahmad would get the ball, he would immediately go forward; by the end he was able to analyze attacking and defending numbers and know when to pass forward or backward. I was inspired by his energetic demeanor.
While I have no idea what these kids have gone through and cannot begin to imagine what their lives are like, yet through everything they still act like normal teenagers, which is incredible because you forget that they have fled their homes, lost members of their families, and risked death. Their constant laughter and smiles reveal something about these kids and show something about their character. This really wouldn’t have been possible without soccer, because in the classroom you see a more serious side, but on the field, you can see their true personality and realize that they are just normal teenage kids like us.