Soccer helps young refugees take a shot at new life in the U.S.

Fri Sep 16, 2016 4:40pm EDT
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By Nathan Frandino

BALTIMORE, Md. (Reuters) - On a muggy day in late July, dozens of student refugees ran relentlessly after a soccer ball, stopping only to help up a fellow player who had slipped.

The focus was on the universal sport that has helped unite these young people - mostly high schoolers - from around the world.

Heman Rai, a 21-year-old Bhutanese refugee, came to Baltimore in 2008 not speaking any English but found soccer helped him settle.

"It's easy," Rai told Reuters on Vanguard Collegiate Middle School campus in Baltimore, Maryland after a recent scrimmage.

His neon green shirt read: "PLAYING FOR CHANGE."

"You don't have to know English or you don't have to know the other person's language. You just play."

Rai is one of 100 refugees in Baltimore trying to find their footing through Soccer Without Borders (SWB), a nonprofit that serves refugee youth in both the United States and overseas.

"Our mission is to use soccer as a vehicle for positive change," said Casey Thomas, director of SWB's Baltimore chapter. The soccer field is one of the few places where youth who have experienced such transitions "immediately feel confident, counted, and like they can express themselves and contribute," the organization said on its website.   Continued...

Oscar, 13, of Honduras, takes a break while in goal during a recent indoor practice with Soccer Without Borders in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., July 28, 2016. Picture taken July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Nathan Frandino