Social Cohesion through Soccer

Speeches Shim

Thursday, May 13, 2021
With support from USAID, Ahmed transformed his love for soccer into a project to rehabilitate his community's sports center, which was severely damaged during ISIS's occupation.
CRS for USAID

“I realized that  joining [Shared Future] was a turning point that I will never forget.” 

Ahmed, 26, fondly remembers green spring afternoons spent as a youth playing soccer with his neighbors  and friends in his village near Bashiqa in northern Iraq. He loved to play soccer, and in high school he often dreamed of becoming a professional  player. Although his life took a quite different turn over the years, through the USAID-funded Shared  Future project, Ahmed was able to share the joy of soccer with the children of various ethnic and  religious groups in his community. 

While Ahmed was in high school, ISIS attacks on his village in 2014 forced him and his family to  flee for safety. “Continuing studying was difficult,” Ahmed said. “I struggled to go to school, as schools  were quite far from me and my family moved from a place to another across Iraq. That’s why I was  forced to postpone my studies.” In 2017, after completing his schooling in Erbil, Ahmed’s family  returned to their village to find everything stolen. Despite these enormous challenges, he and his family  insisted on staying and starting over. “It was not easy to trust others after what everyone has witnessed.” 

The following year, Ahmed heard about Shared Future, a project that supports ISIS-affected  communities to rebuild the broken trust among different ethnic and religious groups. Shared Future  also helps young people start their own businesses or find employment. Ahmed was excited to apply  and was accepted into the social cohesion component of the project. “First, I thought it’ll only add  skills to my CV, but with time, I realized it was adding way more to me,” Ahmed said. “I realized that  joining was a turning point that I will never forget.” 

Ahmed prioritized the social cohesion workshops and would leave work to join his peers and new  friends. He particularly enjoyed the sessions related to leadership, stress management, and accepting  other people’s opinions. “Normal education is easy to find anywhere, but what we learn here is very  deep and life changing.”

In the final stage of social cohesion activities, participants of different ethnic and religious backgrounds formed small teams to design community-oriented projects that address local needs. These initiatives were then  implemented with the support of small grants funded by USAID. Ahmed’s team, named “The  Peacemakers,” was comprised of 10 participants who worked together to refurbish a crumbling sports center in their hometown of Bashiqa, attended by people of all ethnic and religious groups. After obtaining  approvals from the project management and the local authorities, the team began painting the center and filling it with new sports equipment. 

“Seeing the work’s result made my eyes tear up,” Ahmed said. “I love soccer so much, but I never  received support. But when we worked on the center, I felt an indescribable joy for this achievement. I’m supporting others achieve their dreams now!” 

 

All names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. 

 

Last updated: November 01, 2021

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