Soccer tournament to raise money for local refugees

Susie Skowronek

On Friday nights at Davenport University, a group of international students gather to play soccer. The dean of business administration at Davenport kicks the ball up the field.

Junior Emily Larson heard about refugee soccer teams – in particular the group at Davenport University – and incorporated the idea of fundraising with an activity that college students and local refugees might enjoy together.

Soccer for Sudan, a soccer tournament comprised of pool play and a bracket tournament, will take place from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday in the Laker Turf Building. Refugee teams both from the Grand Rapids area and the Lansing area will participate in the event.

Proceeds will benefit refugees in the Grand Rapids area through two organizations, the Michigan Darfur Coalition and the African Community Center, both of which help refugees acclimate to Michigan life.

Last year, Larson volunteered with MDC and tutored refugees from Sudan. She taught mother Nadifa and daughter ZamZam English language skills.

“I was relatively unaware of the issues in Grand Rapids until last year,” Larson said. “But after meeting more refugees in West Michigan, I feel like I can’t just sit by and not do anything.”

Nadifa and ZamZam arrived in Grand Rapids in the summer of 2009 after they left a refugee camp in Kenya ahead of Nadifa’s husband Ismail and his other wife, who could not travel due to pregnancy.

Now, Ismail, two of his wives and six of his children live in two apartments in the city. They struggle to pay rent on government assistance and have a hard time finding employment.

Former coordinator for the MDC Chuck Breen died in May this year, and his mother started a foundation in his memory.

“Chuck always said one of the most important things is education,” said MDC volunteer Sarah Staples. “If we can fund a foundation to help refugees who are here now, that is one of the most important things we can do. We want to see them have their own independence.”

Staples said finding suitable employment for the refugees will assist not only the family members in Grand Rapids but also those still in Africa.

“A lot of men send money back to families to help education,” she said. “It’s a blessing that they’re here to make a living and help family members there who are still suffering.”

Dr. Kojo Quartey, dean of business administration at Davenport, was born in Ghana and first came to the U.S. at age 10 when his father, a diplomat, transferred to Washington D.C.

Now, he chairs the board of the African Community Center in Grand Rapids, the only West Michigan community center that works with refugees. Quartey said he sees refugees from the Congo and Sierra Leone conflicts come into the center.

“Somebody’s got to do something,” he said. “We as human beings are indebted to those who are less fortunate than we are.”

Due to a lack of financing, however, the center has shifted vicinities several times before settling into its current location at the African Community Church at 1204 Eastern Ave. SE.

The center raises funds on a day-to-day basis for tax assistance and helps refugees find jobs.

The African Community Center has started a food bank and, when the organization had more money at its disposal, offered educational programs to teach language and computer skills.

Quartey said organizers of the center hope to instate a similar educational program in Kentwood Public Schools where students speak more than 66 different languages.

“There are only two kinds of people – there are those who have and those who have not,” he said. “Think of those who have not. Think of refugees and those who are indigent.”

Participants in Soccer for Sudan can register teams of five to 10 members with donations of $5 per player.

Spectators can purchase tickets in advance for $2 or at the door for $4, and the Soccer for Sudan committee will sell T-shirts for $10.

To sign up teams or purchase advance tickets and T-shirts, visit the Soccer for Sudan table in the Kirkhof Center lobby from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today. Additional registration can be submitted to [email protected]

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