On June 20th, World Relief Sacramento was pleased to partner with the Sacramento Republic FC and the Office of Mayor Darrell Steinberg in a community-wide World Refugee Day celebration. Together we paused to commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of the refugees within our region and to celebrate Sacramento’s response to the global refugee crisis.
We anticipated the day would be, “an opportunity for both the Sacramento community and the refugee community to enjoy an evening filled with family fun and illustrate how we are better together,” commented Kerry Ham, Executive Director of World Relief Sacramento. However, we could not have predicted the story of Ghazwan Fadhil and Ahmed Khayyafi.
It had been 20 years since the two had seen each other at their shared high school in Iraq, before they reunited through captain Ali Alazzawi’s tournament team. Khayyafi, visiting from New Zealand, happened to be in California for the week and was invited to play alongside Alazzawi’s team who participates in weekly pick-up games with friends.
Fadhil, who played soccer professionally in Iraq before emigrating to the United States 10 years ago, said the soccer tournament, “embodied the spirit of the sport,” and emphasized, “people from different cultures [and] different communities are meeting today.”
With over 1,000 people in attendance, the event brought much-needed recognition and awareness to the more than 10,000 refugees who have become Sacramentans over the last four years. Mark Shetler, Executive Pastor of River City Christian Church and World Relief Sacramento volunteer, commented, “Events like these provide an opportunity for bridges to be built between refugee families and the greater Sacramento community. The goal is not that we can coexist in the same region, but rather that we get acquainted with one another through something as simple as a soccer match and begin to develop authentic friendships with one another, creating one united community.”
Unity is what the more than 65 million people who the United Nations is currently counting as forcibly displaced need. With the fear of refugees increasing and arrival numbers dropping across the United States the celebration and opportunity to play soccer next to so many other refugees and immigrants made team captain Ali Alazzawi feel proud. “We want to show everyone that we are productive people and a strong community,” he said.
Alazzawi served as a doctor in Iraq before Al Qaida threatened his life and he was forced to flee to Jordan before being resettled in America. Unable to practice medicine in Sacramento, Alazzawi has instead partnered with local nonprofits and worked for the UC Davis Prenatal Screening Program. Though Alazzawi describes his integration into the U.S. as initially traumatic he has since become a U.S. citizen and a leader in his community.
Sacramento’s World Refugee Day Soccer Tournament was created for people like Ghazwan Fadhil, Ali Alazzawi, the thousands they represent locally, and the millions they represent internationally. The day’s activities took place at Papa Murphy’s Park, which was donated for the day by the Sacramento Republic FC and made possible by the generosity of Jesus Culture Sacramento. Twelve teams made up of players from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and California’s own Refugee Programs Bureau suited up in the practice jerseys of the Sacramento Republic FC under the guidance of Tournament Director Danny Chaffey.
After a moving speech imploring the refugee families in attendance to never doubt their importance and influence in the city of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg introduced the final two teams – Team Ukraine and the Afghan Warriors. After a well-matched game with impressive plays from both teams, Team Ukraine secured the tournament trophy with a 2-1 victory.
In a special ceremonial presentation, lead by the Sacramento Republic FC COO Ben Gumpert during halftime of the club’s home match against St. Louis FC on June 23rd, Team Ukraine was awarded the World Refugee Day Cup and individual medals in the presence of over 10,000 match attendees. The presentation included a highlight video from World Refugee Day, showcasing the soccer tournament, YMCA Kids’ Zone, food trucks, family carnival and vendor fair.
“Our goal and our responsibility as a club is to use our platform to help empower and bring together our city, so we’re grateful for this opportunity to make a difference for such a worthy cause,” said Gumpert.
World Relief Sacramento’s partnership with the Sacramento Republic FC was a great success and we look forward to continued efforts to raise awareness for the refugees in our community in the future. Both organizations are proud to be located in the most welcoming city in the United States, and though arrival numbers have been drastically cut and are forecast to be even further reduced in FY2019 World Relief Sacramento remains committed to welcoming the refugees arriving in our city and supporting their long-term success and integration into our community.