On a Sunday in El Cajon, California, a city to the southeast of San Diego, Osama Abdulazeez, 14, from Baghdad, Iraq, kicks around a soccer ball with a group of fellow students. They call it “Street Soccer Sundays,” a relaxed, casual game. As members of a school soccer program, they save the regimented drills for weekdays. Today is about fun, not training.
These students participate in a program called YALLA, which stands for Youth and Leaders Living Actively. The local, nonprofit organization provides refugee and immigrant youth an opportunity to rebuild their lives in the United States through education and soccer. The program helps bridge the gap between these refugees’ and immigrants’ current education level and the standards of U.S. public schools, using soccer as a motivational tool.