The Words of the Irikura Family

Soccer Lifts the Spirits of Iraqis in Jordan

Fosayo Irikura
July 28, 2009

Amman, Jordan - Many of the Iraqi refugees I work with tell stories fleeing repression from the regime in Iraq and the opposition militias. As their period of stay in Jordan has extended beyond five, six, and even seven years, they feel increasingly hopeless and desperate. Most of them have no hope of either being resettled or going back to Iraq and are thus stuck with complicated living arrangements in Jordan. To make matters worse, many are in the country illegally, meaning they cannot get work permits or public education beyond high school.

There is also another painful point. Many youth are living far from their families and are still young. Some of them came to Jordan alone when they were 14 or 15 years old and have not seen their families since. In talking to them it has become apparent to me that they desperately long for their families, especially for their mothers. I have recently made arrangements for many of the boys to attend counseling sessions. This is necessary in light of the broken family ties that are held in such high regard in Arab culture.

This particular segment of the Iraqi refugee community should not be forgotten. We must give them the attention they need, including a sense of belonging in Jordan. Due to their circumstances, many of them have been forced to work illegally to survive, and some of them have been captured by police and deported as a result. The ones who are taken to the jail require a Jordanian guarantor for their release, which has often led to their guarantor exploiting them by demanding monetary compensation for their help followed by threats. There have also been many instances in which employers have refused to pay salaries knowing these boys cannot complain to the police without being deported as a result.

In thinking about what I can do for this community, I have decided to focus my energy on providing English classes and a soccer club. My decision to focus on these two services came out of a conversation in which the community as a whole requested English-learning opportunities, soccer-playing opportunities, and a few picnics.

We hold English courses three times a week from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM at my home. These sessions have been very successful since they are located close to the homes of the students and are taught by an Iraqi teacher whom they can all relate to as result of his experiences fleeing Iraq.

We host soccer games free of charge every Friday evening for one and half hours with the equipment and venue provided compliments of the Municipality of Amman. Our soccer club has also been very successful, and it has truly inspired me to see how much the boys can smile during the games. I hope to fulfill their third request and hold a picnic for them in the near future.

We realize that these activities will not solve the difficult problems of the community, but they do lift the spirits of these deserving individuals, so we will continue to carry them out.

Many guests come from America to visit our projects. Despondency and depression grow and take their toll not only psychologically but also in physical manifestations such as ulcers and nervous disorders. One Iraqi-American guest arranged for delegation of doctors to treat the Iraqis. One week we held a clinic in an industrial area where many Iraqis live, and another week we held a clinic near where I lived. The Jordanian Health Aid Society provided medicines and treatment free of charge. We have been arranging to continue this project, since the UN High Commissioner on Refugees has less funds to provide medical care.

One example of soccer lifting the spirits happened in November 2008. Jordan hosted a Junior Professional Soccer match between Norway, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. I put forth a proposal that was accepted by the UNHCR: to offer Iraqis living in and around Amman the opportunity to attend the event on the days the Iraqi team was playing. More than 2,500 Iraqis came.

A young Iraqi boy, Danny, made an impression on Cathy Breen from the NGO Voices in the Wilderness. His name is Danny. He is seriously ill, in need of dialysis three times a week to keep him alive. Cathy writes. She has met Danny and his sister and another woman, both of whom have serious health problems. “They form a household, supporting one another. One of the women will go blind if she doesn’t get an operation soon. The other woman can only walk a short distance with crutches. I recently visited them and met Danny. He appeared only moments before I left as had been resting after receiving dialysis that morning. He came to the game that night. In the photo of the game, you can see Danny playing in the middle playing the drum. Although it is hard to believe, he is 17 years old. Let us draw strength from one another and be filled with the same wonder and joy.” 

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