Football changed Warshan Hussin's life
He fled the war in his native Iraq with his family in 2003
"I want a world without wars, conflict and racism"
Nobody, regardless of their age, should ever have to experience what Warshan Hussin has already gone through in his young life. After the conflict in his native Iraq escalated dramatically at the start of 2003, war broke out in March later that year.
"My favourite thing was to play soccer with my older brothers and some of my friends," the 21-year-old said at the FIFA Conference for Equality and Inclusion. "Everything was perfect. I had an easy and simple life until that day in March 2003 when the war started between Iraq and the United States. Everything turned upside down. I remember going to school was the hardest thing to do. There was an American sniper guarding the street we had to cross to get there, shooting at everyone. So one by one we had to cross that street and I was very scared. It was terrifying. I said goodbye to my parents every day because I wasn't sure if I was coming back. But it wasn't as terrifying as seeing my dad get kidnapped right in front of my eyes."
His father was tortured for 20 days before he was returned to his family and made the life-changing decision to flee Iraq. They spent four years in Syria before moving to Baltimore when Hussin was just 12. Once in the USA, he joined Soccer Without Borders (SWB) and was part of the programme for six years that would change his life dramatically.
What is Soccer Without Borders? The organisation Soccer Without Borders uses football as a vehicle to help give young refugees self-confidence and to contribute to their integration. SWB works with youngsters from over 60 countries whose families have fled some of the world's worst conflicts. Almost 30 million children have been driven from their homelands and football pitches are one of the few places where they immediately feel safe. The SWB programmes aim to counteract the complex barriers that refugees are faced with. It gives them the tools and the confidence they need to overcome hardships and fulfil their potential.
Hussin is particularly grateful to his coach. "Both her and the people that work for Soccer Without Borders were all teachers and had degrees," he told FIFA.com. "I looked up to them and they were my role models, especially my coach. Having someone like her on my side, speaking to her every day, learning something every day and seeing how she deals with pressure was just amazing.
"She looked after 40 kids by herself and only had one football," he continued. "She travelled for an hour from her house to the refugees’ settlement. The founder of SWB got in contact with her and said: 'There are lots of refugees in Baltimore. Do you want to start a soccer team?' She replied: 'I'd love to.' I remember her arriving on her bike and she just had one bag with a football in it. Now we have hundreds of footballs and we donate to other organisations around us. It's just amazing to see how we went from zero to 100."
The same could be said of Hussin himself. During his time at SWB he developed leadership qualities and became captain of his side as well as of his school team. He graduated from Digital Harbor High School with honours in 2015 but has since returned as a volunteer to give something back to the organisation that helped him succeed.
"I want a world without wars, conflict and racism," he said. "My dream is to help people and give them hope. I just want to see people smile. A smile on someone’s face means everything to me." And he hopes football can help him make that dream come true because he has faith in its power to "bring people together through their passion and love for the game".