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Connecting Communities through Love of the Game: Refugees United Soccer Academy and Thunder Shots

As the world’s leading and most popular sport, soccer can play a significant role in bringing people from all walks of life together. From the Champions League to recreational youth leagues on dirt and grass pitches in every corner of the world, countless people come together every year to collectively engage and participate in soccer. A simple game, involving just a ball and two goals, soccer has amassed a humongous international audience with some of the most dedicated and passionate fan bases on the Earth. 

Alongside its pure entertainment value, soccer has been responsible for forming tight bonds at the community level in and across hundreds of countries. iACT, a Los Angeles-based humanitarian organization, and Thunder Shots, a student-run non-profit that aspires to be an educational-athletic organization, are demonstrating just that. To foster community and global connection, youth players and coaches at Thunder Shots and iACT’s Refugees United Soccer Academy (a refugee-led soccer program) teamed up to start a conversation between soccer programs in eastern Chad’s refugee camps and those in San Jose, California! These footballers shared and exchanged answers to the following questions: 1) What has soccer has done for your community? And 2) What is your favorite aspect of the game? 

Arnav Jain, the CEO at Thunder Shots stated, “During the tough times that we are currently living in, soccer has really helped keep everyone in the community happy as it’s best component is how people can bond together regardless of their background.” Matthew Li, a senior staff member at Thunder Shots stated, “Soccer has helped me bond with others and create new friendships in my community and my favorite aspect about soccer is how it’s not only competitive but it’s also extremely fun.” Christopher Li, a competitive soccer player, and varsity captain for his high school added, “I think that it [soccer] brings a lot of people together, especially amongst the ones that do play. My favorite aspect is the competitive part of it, to have a goal in the distance to constantly work for is nice.” A common theme among these quotes is soccer’s extraordinary ability to simultaneously serve as a fun, competitive sport as well as create tight bonds between players and enthusiasts. 

12-year old Ousman in Darfur refugee camp Djabal in Chad describes how soccer and playing in the Academy “let my community [be] happy, and [gave us] friendship.” Academy Coach Sulei notes that soccer “changed my community. Before the Academies, my community did not know the importance of soccer and they did not know that girls have the right to play soccer and create good relationships among others.” Along with creating community ties and cultivating friendships for the players and coaches living in refugee camps, the Academy has become a place for boys and girls to play, learn, and heal.