At 9:30 a.m. the sun was already high above the Cesar Chavez field in East Oakland where kids, sporting their favorite soccer jerseys, slathered themselves in sunscreen. They sat in circles, divided by age, and shouted out their names and which countries they were born in. “Guatemala,” “Afghanistan,” “Congo,” they announced.
Some giggled and joked with their friends, while others sat quietly and waited their turn. This was the first day of soccer camp, an annual week-long program organized by Soccer Without Borders (SWB), and the kids were ready to jump into the game.
Soccer Without Borders, an Oakland-based non-profit founded in 2006, uses soccer as a tool to help young refugees, asylees and newcomers make friends, gain confidence at school and build English language skills.
Each summer more than 150 children between the ages of 5 and 20 participate in the camp. During the academic year, SWB also provides kids with after school club soccer teams at six East Bay middle schools and high schools. Since it first began, the organization has expanded to four other cities in the U.S. as well as Uganda and Nicaragua.
According to Ben Guicciardi, the organization’s founder and director of the Oakland program, newcomer youth need help with learning English, obtaining family stability and getting the chance to enjoy their adolescence. For many of them, especially older boys and unaccompanied minors, “there’s just not the opportunity to just get to be a kid,” he said.