Soccer Salam: Using the Beautiful Game to Help 5,000 Children

I still remember when I was a child in Iraq, my friends and I would meet out in our very narrow street, form two teams, and start playing soccer. We took our games very seriously, pretending it was a Barcelona vs Real Madrid kind of game. 

During the summer break, we would be out playing from 4 in the afternoon, until we get yelled at by our parents very late at night. The funny thing is that we did not always have soccer balls to play with. 

Instead, We played with cans, rocks, and plastic balls that kept blowing up- I hated these balls. However, we just wanted to play soccer. Unfortunately, the simple joy of playing a sport that you love as a child was not easy. 

After the 2003 invasion, everything became so difficult. Going to schools was a daily struggle, playing outside with friends was dangerous, and even a walk in the park was not an option. At some point, I could not do anything. I would stay at home all day long staring at my TV screen and my Sega Genesis video games, which I couldn’t play because there was no power. 

The violence that came with the 2003 invasion took so much from me: my father, my home, and my childhood. In 2006, I was forced to leave Iraq and sought refuge in Damascus, Syria. At the time, there were millions of displaced Iraqis in Syria and I happened to be one of them. At the beginning, things were very slow and I had nothing to do. 

Thankfully, in 2007 I was fortunate to join the Iraqi Student Project (ISP): a grassroots roots effort to help displaced young Iraqis finish their undergraduate education in the United States. ISP was founded by Americans who cared about my future, and the future of dozens of other young Iraqis. They showed me that I was not alone. 

That’s why I’m excited to show the same support for young Iraqis who are facing similar—if not greater—challenges. Today, four US-based charitable organizations are joined together to kickoff Soccer Salam: a social media campaign to mobilize emergency winter aid for innocent victims of war. 

Our collective goal: to raise $50K in 50 days to reach 5,000 Iraqi children and families in need. Together, we plan to deliver winter blankets, warm clothes, soccer balls, and more. 

#SoccerSalam will help achieve the following: Show solidarity with the youth of Iraq; Increase public awareness about Iraq as a humanitarian emergency and; Fill a Boeing 737 with soccer balls and winter essentials that will go directly to Iraqi children and families in need. 

In Arabic, “salam” means peace, and for Iraqi children, nothing makes them happier than the joy of playing soccer. Equally important, soccer is a sport that truly unites all Iraqis and promotes positive youth development. 


By Taif Jany
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