ST. LOUIS — In August 2021, thousands of refugees fled Afghanistan in hopes for a new beginning.
Over 600 found a home in St. Louis.
“It’s such a journey they are on and they cannot do it alone.”
Arrey Obenson found a home in St. Louis after leaving his home of Cameroon. Now the President and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis, he’s looking to help others find a new community here, too.
One way they are doing it?
“We are calling it ‘Soccer Saturday,'” Obenson said with a smile.
For two hours every Saturday, local soccer venue, Futbol Club STL, is a safe place for kids to be nothing for than kids.
“I call it controlled chaos,” Futbol Club STL owner Jose Trujillo said. “It’s a way for them to get away from their daily situation and come and play.”
The “situation” Trujillo is referring to is finding a permanent place to live in St. Louis.
Many of these refugees currently live in hotels, awaiting the opportunity to find homes. What was supposed to be a couple of weeks has swelled to months of hotel housing. Soccer Saturdays offer a chance to get out of the room and onto the turf.
“We pick them up from the hotel, and every time we drive up they get so excited,” program manager Moji Sidiqi said. “We pick them up from the hotel, and every time we drive up they get so excited.” We want to create opportunities for the children to forget the circumstances they are in, disconnect from that and just be children.”
It’s not that simple.
Many of the refugees that have settle in St. Louis fled their homes with nothing more than a hand bag and some personal belongings. Few speak any English at all.
Fortunately, the St. Louis community stepped yet again.
“We have a guy who works part time [at Futbol Cub STL] that had access to local soccer shops,” Trujillo said. “He was able to get us cleats at cost.”
Now dressed in new cleats, new clothes and even athletic Hijabs for the young girls, these kids are able to play with no limitations.
Obenson hopes these kids will feel no limitations when chasing their dreams in the future, much like he did not too long ago.
“[They can] get a chance to reach their greatest potential,” Obenson said. “To see me as a Cameroonian or these kids as Afghans; what if we all just saw each other as human beings? We all want to achieve the same thing.”