A few months ago, I had the honor of attending a Soccer Without Borders event in Oakland, California. It was the celebration of SWB’s 10 Years of Positive Change. Soccer Without Borders is an organization that provides the opportunity for immigrant and refugee children to play soccer here in the US. Most of these children have moved away from their homes and speak English as a second language, if at all. SWB provides them a place to belong, learn, and most importantly, play.
I’ve known about SWB for several years. When I was at UCLA, my soccer team put on a free clinic to raise awareness about the program. We sold t-shirts and donated all of the profits to the organization. It was there I realized that the work SWB does has the power to influence lives in such an amazing and positive way.
A couple of years later, I helped my NWSL club team, the WNY Flash, put on another clinic in Rochester, NY. Though I had never met anyone from the organization personally, everyone involved over the phone and through email was so thrilled and appreciative. I got such a sense of inclusivity from all of the SWB staff that I spoke with. We were able to raise more money and more awareness and most importantly, give some kids an opportunity to play soccer for free. We have structured sports in such a way that it seems kids only really play organized sports. Some kids who don't have the money or opportunity to join expensive travel or club teams might miss out on those experiences.
This past October, I was invited to attend the event in Oakland. It was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever been to. All of the food was homemade by the families of the children involved in the program. I tried so many new things that I have never even heard of before. I was there alone, so I was relying on establishing some relationships as the night wore on. Although I was very nervous, everyone was so interested to talk to me and hear about why I was involved. The community of people was one of the most friendly, open, and genuinely kind groups I have ever seen.
My favorite part about the night was when, at one point when I was standing alone, several of the young boys who play soccer for SWB teams approached me to chat and take some pictures. Most of them spoke English as a second language, but they came right up to me with confidence and tried to make me feel welcome, because as I realized, I was the outsider. I was so nervous at times, standing there alone, that I was too shy to go up to strangers and talk to them. I realized that I had a small taste of what it might be like to move to a new place and not know anybody.
I realized that these boys were given much of this confidence from their involvement with SWB. It was obviously a place where they felt so welcomed, so included, and so comfortable being themselves. All of the young girls that I met gave off a sense of empowerment that really resonated with me. At that moment, I recognized fully what the program was about and why I had felt compelled to get involved the first place. Soccer Without Borders is using soccer, the sport that has shaped so much of my life and identity, to welcome children who might feel like outsiders and give them a place to belong and be themselves.
If you haven’t heard of Soccer Without Borders, you should definitely check them out. If you’re a member of the soccer community, they do trips every year to places like Nicaragua and Uganda to bring equipment and put on camps for local kids in impoverished areas. I can only hope that my relationship with the people at the incredible organization can continue for years to come.