A student reflects on volunteering with Soccer Without Borders

By Zachary Kane, '13  |  Photos by Brian Schneider

Zachary Kane, ’13, wrote these reflections on his experience volunteering for Soccer Without Borders through a service-learning experience for “Apartheid and its Demise in South Africa,” a course taught by Elizabeth Schmidt, Ph.D., professor of history.

March 1, 2012

This past week we did an exercise in which the boys had to pick a partner and then decide who was their most influential/inspirational soccer player. This week I was able to work with two young men from Sudan.  One named Edmon and the other was Paulus. Both boy’s are 17 and are refugees here in Baltimore.

The exercise made the boys pick a famous player from a list that was provided by the teacher. There were numerous players on the list who were from Africa. These players are outstanding on the field and do some good work off of the field.  However, the boys did not pick any of the African born players. They instead chose Lionel Messi from Argentina.

According to them not only is Messi the greatest player alive in the current era he is also a great human being.  In 2010 Messi was awarded The Goodwill Ambassador Award from UNICEF. UNICEF is one of the worlds leading charities that deal with helping children. He also started his own charity the “Leo Messi Foundation” that works to help underprivileged children in Spain and Argentina. It was for these reasons that the boys chose him as their favorite player and most inspirational person.

After they decided on Messi they had to present why they felt he was the most inspirational player/person on the list. Many of the boys chose players that were popular or from their home region but Edmon and Paulus did not. They presented in a way that most groups did not, they spoke about his humanitarian efforts mainly and little about his soccer ability. While I did help their speech for the class I did not influence their answers.  It was a great thing to see as they branched out past Africa for someone who is truly a great human being.  It did not bother them that he was not African but it did bother them that some players did not even seem to try to help the endangered and at risk youth.

I asked them shortly after everyone presented whether or they would have chosen Messi before being engaged in SWB. They both said that they probably would not have done so and would have chosen someone from Africa because it represented them. I believe it is amazing that something as simple as soccer can open the eyes of youth throughout the world to what really matters. They chose Messi because of the person he is not because of amazing athlete/soccer player he is now. It is this awareness that will help them in life, the soccer is extra. If they can identify what makes a great human being they are more likely to become that person. That is what is truly important.

March 24, 2012

Today was my third week attending Soccer Without Borders soccer school on Saturday mornings. On a typical Saturday the two hours are usually spent on an academic base but this week was different. Tomorrow the boys would have their first game. Today’s soccer school session was based around their goals and ambitions.

Jill took the lead for the day and gave the boys a worksheet with several questions. This worksheet consisted of individual goals. What did the boys want to get out of the upcoming semester and this spring season, individually. I went around the room and helped the boys formulate their ambitions into well-formed sentences and thoughts. The first couple of questions were focused around academics.

The grades of SWB student athletes varies greatly. Some boys achieve impressive 4.0’s while others struggle to obtain a 2.0. They set their academic goals accordingly and it was very impressive to see their understanding of where they stood in school. That’s not to say they were pessimistic but for instance if one boy was on a 2.2 his goal was to get a 2.75 this quarter. They set realistic goals for themselves and at the same time they did not give up if something in academics was not going there way.

While most seem to have a good grip on mathematics they also have the inverse in their English and history classes. For the first time in their lives they have to learn the history of a country in which they were not born in and it is not their native.

As I sat and helped a table of SWB’ers I came to the realization of what these boys were really doing. I thought to myself if I was transported to Iraq tomorrow and placed in to one of their schools how would I do? I have no understanding of the language, I don’t have a clue about their history except from a religious aspect, and the culture is entirely different from the U.S. What these boys manage to achieve is truly amazing.  For many their grades are low not because of effort but because of the language barrier which creates a tremendous gap in comprehension of what is being taught. If I am being 100 percent honest I do not think I could do what these boys do on a daily basis.

After they completed their individual goals Jill held a dry erase board which had “Team Goals” written on it. Once again, academics was the first topic because Jill is instilling the knowledge that without education these boys do not stand a chance. Goals ranging from GPA to school attendance and they set realistic goals again.  They set the bar high for themselves but they do not set it to a point where it becomes unachievable. This understanding and realist attitude is extremely important for the boys to survive in a new culture. They know to test themselves but they know not to set themselves up for disaster.

March 25, 2012

Yesterday at soccer school the boys set their personal, academic, and soccer goals for this season. Today they got the chance to move towards one set of those goals, soccer.

This Sunday was the first day of the spring season for SWB FC and they took on Essex SC. The boys came to a consensus for their spring soccer season in which they would only allow three goals, win every game, and win the league. Today they got off on the right foot with a four nil win over Essex SC.

In conditions which were not great and an incident involving a parent from the other team nearly terminated the game early the boys stayed focused and played to a convincing win. After Jean Marie came sliding out to make a breakaway save in which left himself and the player from the other team injured a parent lost their cool and began screaming at the official on the far side of the field. The screaming kept escalating and the official called the game off with SWB already leading two goals to nil. Coach Jill and the coach for Essex conversed with the officials and decided with the parent leaving the premises to keep the game going.

The boys were able to stay focused and get past the dislocated expectations to go on and score two more goals to seal a victory. After each goal they celebrated like a team with hugging and high fives. What came after the game was truly heartwarming and inspiring. The boys huddled up and started chanting loudly like they had just won a world cup. They weren’t celebrating like a team, they were celebrating like a family, a family comprised of nearly a dozen nationalities and multiple religions. None of that matters when the boys are on the field and its evident. Race, color, belief, shape, and size disappear for the SWB players. This is not only among their own team but also the team they are playing. Great values and morals can learned just from watching this beautiful game being played by a family of teenage boys.

March 31, 2012

Today the boys started their spring break and their quarter had just ended. This meant that tutoring would be at a minimum so academic coordinator Gina had set up a debate for today. Real Madrid Vs Barcelona.  Which team was better currently, right now in the world.  From the get go Gina knew that this topic would heated and emotional.  The class was split nearly perfectly 50/50 for the debate.

The boys debated and argued furiously for an hour.  It was evident from the get go that they were extremely prideful and emotional with their support of their team. Anmar, who is the oldest member of SWB at the age of 18 was the vocal and emotional leader for Real Madrid’s side. He started the debate with a very assertive tone that would set the demeanor for the rest of the hour.

I was the academic coach for team Barcelona and it was my personal goal once I saw Anmar’s tone to keep my team quiet and respectful. I did not want my boys getting upset and heated over his remarks and lose valuable points for being disrespectful.  They kept their cool and gave solid well organized points of why Barcelona is the superior team right now in the world in comparison to Real Madrid.

While my team stayed calm, cool, and collected team Real begin to crumble and break. They would lose seven points from talking while it was our teams time to talk and thus showing disrespect towards us. The loss of those seven points would solidify our victory in the debate.

I was extremely impressed with the way all the boys held their composure overall. The debate was very emotional and filled with pride which made it very difficult to keep your mouth shut because all you want to do is defend what is yours. The maturity of the boys is very surprising sometimes but I must say that they have experienced things in their 16, 17, or 18 years on this planet that I have not even the slightest understanding of at 21 years of age.

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