Growing up I was a soccer (football then) player. I walked miles, bare-foot and without a jersey. To play soccer in a refugee camp without a life, future or identity is too much for a young person to carry on their shoulders. Even though I did not have the opportunity to play big games due to my identity, my hard work paid off. I finished my Bachelor’s degree with the support of a soccer club. I was a coach and referee trained by Olympic Aid, Canada; and I am now the official organizer/coordinator of the Portland World Cup Soccer tournament helping to engage, partner among new and old comers and connect city with different ethnic communities. A player who turns 16 in Portland can play this tournament for four years making friends from Central America to East Asia from the Middle East, to Africa, to Europe and North America. They have an opportunity to engage with people who speak over 25 different languages. In the past four years 1,500 youth from more than 2 dozen communities have participated including under-served and under-represented youth of color. This is a dream about Portland and the future of America, and a message of the changing demographics and population of our city.
This tournament provides opportunities for youth, parents and their communities to gain access to city resources, opening the door for dialogue and creating space. And it is a city’s wider outreach and care to these youth identifying their barriers and challenges. City gets a chance to bridge the gap becoming more inclusive and culturally competent. It is a win win situation for both parties. You cannot measure the enormous impact when they feel that this is their city and deserve to participate in city activities as they start their new life in a new home, and a soccer city, here in welcoming Portland. In the words of Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong, community engagement manager, “This is how Portland Parks & Recreation leads to create space and provide opportunities for immigrant and refugee youth plus their communities.”
This year PP&R has hired youth from nine different ethnic backgrounds to serve on the committee that will organize the 2014 tournament that began in 2010. Partners like Portland Police Bureau, Portland Fire Department, DavidDouglasHigh School, African Youth Council of Oregon, Bhutanese Community and the Portland Office of Equity are contributing to the tournament ensuring the success. This is not just soccer but a gateway for a connection to resources, an opportunity for the critical integration of newcomers and an event that truly helps develop the future careers, trust and confidence of youth who are trying to navigate the system here.
On Nov. 27 at City Council presentation, Amanda Fritz, PP&R’s Commissioner said, “Soccer is an international language that connects good values and establishes long term relationship between city and new comers-refugee and immigrant youth and their communities into our city for better integration.”
During career week, prior to the tournament, we take youth to different city offices to learn about all the partners and opportunities involved. That is where Tyler Noble, one of the youth committee members, decided to become a Fire Fighter and he again assured at City Council presentation. The 2014 tournament marks the fifth anniversary of the tournament, and NPR has developed a podcast about the tournament meaning that the country is looking to Portland to continue to pioneer these programs. For parents, soccer is a hope and network for integration. I hear parents excited to engage their kids in this tournament and build connections to keep their youth from heading in a negative direction. This is a smart investment for better citizens tomorrow. Also, this is the celebration of unity in differences turning challenges into opportunities.
Som Nath Subedi is a coordinator for Portland World Cup Soccer Tournament.