More Than a Game: Refugee Kids Find Haven in Soccer
IRAQ - The World Cup in Brazil is dominating the attention of more than a billion people around the world. Even in war-torn Northern Iraq, some young kids recently competed in their own tournament with as much heart as the world's best players.
Bobby Parks, founder of More than a Game, hosted the three-day soccer camp in Kurdistan for young Syrian refugees and Iraqi children.
Nearly 2,000 kids from ages 7 to 18 took part in the camp. Many of them escaped the fighting in Syria and some have had family members killed in the more than three-year civil war.
It's not the World Cup, but for these Syrian refugees and Iraqi children, the soccer tournament was even more important.
"What 'More than a Game' does is uses the beautiful game of football. It's the universal language. We use it to reach refugees both in Oklahoma in the United States and around the world," Parks said.
Parks found that most of the world speaks soccer.
"It could be the hills of Nepal or right here in the Middle East. It's amazing how a simple football, it can bring people together and unite people," he explained. "We use football as an open door to say, you know, we'll build relationship. We'll unite together around a passion for a game."
More than a Game did the heavy lifting but World Compassion pitched in.
Jason Law, vice president of Operations for World Compassion, said the desperate Iraqi crisis provides an opportunity for cooperation.
"I think when the Body works together in unity it just naturally sends a message, but in a practical sense we can always do more. Two are better than one," he said."I'm not great at organizing a soccer camp but Bobby Parks, More than a Game, they are. How can I facilitate them coming in?"
Their teamwork made the camp possible, and kids like 12-year-old Wadell, a refugee from the fighting in Syria, enjoyed the results.
"I've been living in Kurdistan as a refugee for about a year and a half. This is the most joyful three days of my life as a refugee," Wadell said. "We came from Syria and it's incredible how the American coaches take care of us."
The tournament pitted teams in the same group against each other from the younger ones to the older ones. The game wasn't always the best, but they played with all their hearts.
When this game ended, it really looked like their World Cup.