Soccer brings nationalities together

ST. LOUIS - Soccer is played across the world, but here in St. Louis, it's bringing kids of different nationalities together. For some, the opportunity to play is a life changing experience.

Under an amber sky, a passion is burning. Kalilou Doukuly will do anything to play soccer, even make his own ball.

"In Africa it's really hard to get a soccer ball, so most kids come together, get a plastic bag, put clothes in it and even though we couldn't afford cleats, we were used to playing barefoot," said Doukuly.

Doukuly and his teammate, Marcus Harris, are African war refugees from Liberia, a place more hostile than St. Louis.

"I don't want to say I saw dead people, but I saw a lot of blood, killing and stuff," said Doukuly.

"Like I didn't see my dad for a long, long time 'til that war started," said Harris.

Doukuly and Harris' families escaped the dangers in their homeland, but can't elude the memories.

"I wanted to cry but I couldn't cry 'cause they say you a man," said Harris.

"Those kinds of things don't go away on their own," said Tom Michler, a licensed counselor, who founded New Dimensions Soccer.

"Losing track of family members, being involved or a part of an attack, spending time in a war camp. There's just so many things that have happened to these people, and they don't come here wanting to tell their story. They're pretty quiet about it to tell you the truth," said Michler.

The program gives kids from other countries and from St. Louis a place to play, but New Dimensions reaches beyond the game.

"When they received a jersey and received an identity and became part of a social network, social connection, then you see some of the emotions that they carry not necessarily melt away, but somewhat recede. In their face, it shows in their eyes," said Michler.

They all share a bond and because of that, life starts to come a little easier.

"I wasn't shy and afraid to tell them my story, and they tell me their story," said Doukuly.

"It helped me open my feelings up better, maybe remind me of Africa," said Harris.

Soccer won't take away all their pain.

"I wish I could tell you that we had intended for this program to be able to help heal trauma. That was not our intention at all. That was really just an unintended consequence," said Michler.

The end result: giving kids who've seen the worst life hast to offer a chance to just be a kid.

New Dimensions Soccer serves around 800 kids in St. Louis, and close to 20 percent are immigrants.


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