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Spirit of Soccer Saves Lives

Syrian refugee children play soccer at a youth empowerment center at al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, Feb 25, 2013. (Reuters)

New initiative uses game to educate Syrian youth about landmines.

Childhood is far from carefree for Syrian children growing up in the shadow of President Bashar al-Assad’s war on his own people. Even a simple game of soccer can mean serious risk when a playing field may contain buried landmines or unexploded munitions.

Spirit of Soccer Saves Lives
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A new initiative by the U.S. Department of State is working to save lives and prevent injuries by using soccer to educate Syrian youth at the Za’atri refugee camp in northern Jordan about these hidden hazards when the refugees will be able to return home.

The program is funded through a $50,000 grant managed by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement and is implemented by Spirit of Soccer and in partnership with the Arab Mine Action Consultancy Company.

Founded in 1996 by coach Scotty Lee after witnessing first-hand the impact of landmines and unexploded munitions on communities as a volunteer aid worker in the Balkans, Spirit of Soccer has been dedicated to using soccer skills clinics and tournaments to teach Mine and Unexploded Ordnance Risk Education to more than 200,000 children in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Iraq, Kosovo, and elsewhere.

Additional support is provided by FIFA [Federation Internationale de Football Association], in partnership with the Asian Football Development Project, the Jordanian Football Association, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Za’atri camp is the second largest refugee camp in the world with over 120,000 refugees who were forced to leave their homes in Syria. More than half of camp residents are children below the age of 17 according to the UNHCR. To date, more than 8,000 at-risk boys and girls have participated in the program, as well as Jordanian children in neighboring communities hosting Syrian families escaping from the ongoing conflict.

The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of Conventional Weapons Destruction. Since 1993, the State Department has partnered with the Defense Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to promote peace and security by delivering more than $2 billion through more than 60 public-private partners such as Spirit of Soccer in more than 90 countries.

The United States is committed to protecting the world’s children in post-conflict areas by removing buried landmines or unexploded munitions.