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  • Soccer Without Borders

From Displacement to Belonging: Soccer's Impact on the Refugee Experience

Highlights from our June 22, 2023 event, From Displacement to Belonging: Soccer's Impact on the Refugee Experience.

Every refugee's journey is unique, but one thing that unites the stories of former refugees and current Soccer Without Borders (SWB) staff members Hajar Abulfazl and Jeremiah Lukeka is the power of soccer to create belonging and build a sense of home.

The special event, which took place on June 22, was held in honor of World Refugee Day and came off the heels of a sobering new report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Global Trends Report. At the end of 2022, the worldwide number of displaced people grew to 108.4 million, up 19.1 million from last year. This is the largest ever increase.

This means that more than 1 in every 74 people on Earth have been forced to flee. While children under the age of 18 account for 30% of the world's population, they make up 40% of displaced people.

Solutions to the crises driving displacement must be coordinated and come from the highest levels of global power. But that does not mean there is nothing we can do. On the ground and in communities, we can welcome and support those most affected as they seek a new place to call home.

During the event, From Displacement to Belonging: Soccer’s Impact on the Refugee Experience, our panelists opened up about their personal experiences of displacement, the challenges faced by newcomers, and how soccer has the power to make a positive impact in the lives of refugees.

Our panelists included:

  • Hajar Abulfazl; originally from Afghanistan, Hajar is a former co-captain of the Afghanistan Women’s National Team, a former delegate to the UN Youth Assembly, and an activist for girls and women's rights in Afghanistan.

  • Jeremiah Lukeka; originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and currently residing in Boston, Jerry moved to Uganda as a refugee at the age of 16. An SWB alumnus who eventually became the Hub's Director, Jerry quickly became an integral member of the SWB team.

  • Ryan Gitonga; the event was moderated by Ryan Gitonga. Originally from Kenya and now residing in Baltimore, Ryan is a Senior Program Coordinator with SWB.

“I was so surprised how much we have in common,” shared Hajar. “A girl from Afghanistan to a girl from South America, a girl from the Middle East to a girl from Africa, we all go through the same problems and we need to support each other. This is what soccer does, it brings all of us together.”

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