Soccer camp offers escape for refugees

This may sound like a typical summer camp, but if you look a little closer, you'll see it's about a lot more.

LANDOVER, MD. (WUSA9) - A boy in a blue soccer jersey is agile and quick, as he puts all his might into passing a ball across the field. Right next to him, a girl in white is doing the same. And nearby a young man is working on his juggling skills. This may sound like a typical summer camp, but if you look a little closer, you'll see it's about a lot more. 

While they may look and act like any other child, it turns out each and every one of these kids are refugees, gathered for the annual L.A.C.E.S Soccer Camp in Landover.

"I feel like I'm in heaven when I'm playing soccer," laughed Aaron Kaitenda. 

The young man was born in the Congo, but was forced to flee with his family due to violence. After years living in Uganda, they have finally settled in the U.S.

Sohiel Hamrah from Afghanistan had a similar story. He was forced to leave the country, due to the violence. 

"There was a lot of fight there," he said. 

Ryan Hawari was one of the newer arrivals, as his family recently fled war-torn Syria.

"When we was in our house," he said. "There were tanks."

An eccentric young man, Hawari then started marching in place to continue the story.

"And the army was coming like this over to our house... I was small, like four years old. I was like standing in the window saying hi to them."

The camp is meant to act as an escape from their troubles, but also it's meant to offer a community for kids who might not have one. Kayla Dunlap is one of the volunteer coaches, and said the camp shows how soccer can be a unifier. 

"It's just a way for people to bond automatically," she said.

"Even if there's a language barrier, they know the game, and they love the game.... It's common ground that we can share, where we may not be super familiar with their circumstance and what they're going through. But we can maybe meet them where they are, and just experience some fun with them."

The organization first began by doing work in Liberia. Over the years, they've held these camps for some 1,300 kids across the globe.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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