Souleyman Adam Bourma was 17 when he sought refuge in the sprawling Goz Amer refugee camp in eastern Chad, home to more than 250,000 Darfurians who have fled war in their homeland.
For half his life, Bourma, a once a farmer, has known no life beyond the fringes of the countryside, and he had little reason to believe that he ever would. Then he found football. Or more appropriately, soccer found it when Gabriel Stauring and Katie-Jay Scott, two South Bay activists, showed up in Goz Amer with a soccer ball.
Bourma is among 22,000 refugees in 20 countries, from Chad and Tanzania, to Greece and the Central African Republic, who have seen their lives change since Stauring and Scott launched the Refugees United Soccer Academy in 2013. Now the future of that program is Uncertain after a fatal four-car car accident in Manhattan Beach claimed the lives of Stauring, Scott and elementary school principal Christian Mendoza on Tuesday.
“One measure of what they left behind is the hundreds of people who reached out to us in the last 24 hours and just asked ‘What can I do?’” Explained Ben Grossman, a board member of iACT, the non-profit organization. of profit that Stauring and Scott founded to fund jobs like Refugees United.
“They did so many things that they didn’t have a formal title,” Grossman said. “They asked about hugely important projects, some of which they couldn’t talk about because they were so dangerous.”
Growing crises around the world led many humanitarian organizations to leave Darfur, the western region of Sudan that was the focus of a war and ethnic cleansing against the mostly poor, non-Arab Sudanese that began nearly two decades ago. But Stauring and Scott stuck around, doubling down on their work with Refugees United Soccer Academy and other programs, like the Little Ripples child development program.
“We choose to go to the difficult places, the forgotten places,” said Stauring, who was 55 years old. “They all left Darfur and we determined that we were not going to leave.”
Stauring first visited Darfur in 2005 and returned 31 times to work with refugees, many of whom were born in the camps. She met Scott in Portland, where she was working on advocacy for Darfur. When she asked to join the fledgling aid program he had created, he agreed, as long as she could raise her own salary.
He did so, accompanying Stauring to Africa for the first time in 2008, a trip that was interrupted by an attempted coup. Two years later they married and settled in Redondo Beach, where they celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary in September with an iACT fundraiser.
Stauring and Scott, who grew up in Mexico and played college football at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, introduced the sport to camps in 2012, leading Team Darfur, a team of adult Sudanese men, including Bourma, to an international tournament. .
The men struggled on the field, but the concept took hold, so a year later the couple launched an academy for boys. While keeping their promise to never leave Darfur, they expanded the program to Burundian refugees in Tanzania, Central Africans in Cameroon, and thousands of others in need, work that was organized and managed by a staff of five based in southern South Africa. California with an annual budget of less than $ 1 million.
The academies, designed to house up to 2,000 children who train or play for 60 to 90 minutes a day, five to six days a week, are primarily aimed at boys and girls ages 6 to 13. Next March, 10 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 were scheduled to travel to the Street Child World Cup in Qatar, where teams representing 21 countries will compete in a 7v7 tournament while learning to defend themselves on issues. such as access to education and other basic needs. That trip is now uncertain after Tuesday’s crash.
What Stauring and Scott, who was 40, lacked financial resources, they more than made up for thanks to the commitment and passion they inspired.
“They made the world better. They made me a better person, ”said Alecko Eskandarian, a former professional and ethnic Armenian soccer player who was working with iACT to bring a soccer program to his war-torn homeland. “The way they essentially look for people who need help, to see their passion, their disinterest was almost too good to be true.”
“It is a tremendous loss for all of us. If you had more people so they were just willing to drop everything to go help others, we would be in a much better place. “
Bringing football to refugee camps, where there is a shortage of food, clean water and housing, may seem like a case of misplaced priorities, but it was the opposite. Not only was the game cheap and easy to organize, it taught skills like teamwork and developed traits like confidence and self-esteem. It also empowered girls and women who were trained to make decisions for themselves.
“It totally changed my life because I learned more important things like respect, truth, relationships,” said Bourma, a Refugees United coach and coordinator who experienced unimaginable violence during the height of the conflict in Darfur. “I became part of the world. For me, football is the future of the children of Darfur ”.
A recent grant from the UEFA Foundation for Children was to fund academies at four more camps, increasing the global reach of a program that began when Stauring and Scott carried a single soccer ball to a dusty corner of eastern Chad nine years ago. years. That expansion has been postponed as the iACT board figures out how to replace its irreplaceable leaders.
“They were the lifeblood of this. They were great people. They were passionate. They gave big hugs, physically and philosophically. You just wanted to be around them, ”Grossman said of Stauring and Scott, who left behind a 9-year-old daughter, Leila Paz, an 18-year-old son, Gabo, and a 25-year-old daughter, Noemi.
“They would want me to continue. They worked too hard and touched too many lives for it to end now. “
For more information about the program or to help, go to https://www.iact.ngo or [email protected]
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Redondo Beach Couple Who Helped Darfur Refugees Gain Independence Through Soccer Dies In Accident