Three young refugees become stars in the soccer team sponsored by the UN in Brazil
By Carolina Montenegro *
To be a soccer player. The dream of 10 out of 10 Brazilian boys is the same for many foreigners who have come from far and adopted the country as their new homeland. A proof that if only Brazil can be a five-time world champion, the passion for soccer unites people from all over the world.
Since they were very, very young, the Palestinian Ali Abu Taha, Colombian Fernando Herrera and African Solomon Kallon play soccer. But differently from the Brazilians, they also share another reality: their lives were devastated by war, and they were forced to leaver their countries. They have found refuge in Brazil and in soccer playing.
This Monday, in Brasília, Taha, Herrera and Kallon have been officially announced as members of the Brazsat soccer team, an unprecedented partnership with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). “It is the first time this UN agency’s symbol will be engraved on a soccer team shirt”, said a UNHCR representative, Javier Cienfuegos, during the event held to launch the partnership.
“I’ve always watched the Brazilian national team games, I used to cheer for Brazil and not for Iraq during the World Cups”, says Taha, 19, who was born in that Arabian country, but has kept his Palestinian nationality, just like as his parents. He arrived in Brazil in 2007, together with other 106 Palestinians, after spending five years at a refugee camp in Jordan.
His parents and brothers were taken care of by UNHCR’S solidary resettlement program and today live in the city of Mogi das Cruzes, in the state of Sao Paulo. “I have been playing in the Brazsat soccer team here in Brasília since last year, when a journalist friend of mine presented me to the team”, said Taha.
Being a very playful boy, he claims to already miss the federal capital when he travels back to Sao Paulo, and that he’s been very happy. He won’t disclose the salary he gets from the soccer team, but he says that “it is enough for me to help my parents and then there is still a little left”. He is quite open about his plans for the future: “for the time being, I want to grow up playing with Brazsat and then my dream is to play out of Brazil, for the Palestinian national team”.
The other two young refugees are still being tested by the soccer team and have been living in Brasília for less than a week. Fernando Herrera, 15, left Colombia with his family, to escape the violence of armed guerrillas. “Initially, we went to Costa Rica and then we came to Brazil”, he explains.
Herrera started playing soccer at Internacional, when he lived in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. He admires Brazilian forward Ronaldo and the Colombian Valderrama. “But if I had to choose a national team, I’d play for Colombia.”
As for Kallon, 20, he dreams about playing soccer in Europe some day. “The next time I’ll follow the right direction, and take an airplane”, he jokingly says. Five months ago he embarked on a ship in Sierra Leone, which instead of taking him to Europe ended up in the port of Santos, in Sao Paulo.
“I went aboard with a group of friends, looking for a better life, but I didn’t know I would end up in Brazil”, says Kallon, who left a brother in Freetown unaware of his whereabouts. “We’ve lost our parents, only the two of us were left, but he doesn’t even know I am alive, after I took that ship. I haven’t been able to contact him anymore”, laments this soccer player who started his career in his country’s main soccer team, Kallon Football Club.
The partnership between UNHCR and Brazsat is part of the Ninemillion.org campaign headed by that UN agency, which promotes education and sports to some nine million refugee children and young boys and girls all over the world. And it has the support of UNHCR’S corporate partners such as Nike and Microsoft, among others.
* Refugees United Special Reporter