ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) - Nearly 400 students from more than 30 countries officially welcomed a brand new soccer field. The Tuesday afternoon dedication ceremony took place at the Nahed Chapman New American Academy on South Grand Boulevard in South St. Louis City. It is a place where immigrant children, many of them refugees, begin the process of becoming Americans.
A group of boys at this school in the St. Louis Public Schools District started the year with a focus on what the world calls football, which of course, is considered to be soccer in the U.S.A. Through the sport of soccer, the children forget the challenges they overcame overseas.
For instance, 12-year-old Gehadaldain Turki is from Fallujah, Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria stormed his home city in 2014. The Iraqi Army ultimately liberated his hometown from terrorist invaders in 2016. By then, Gehadaldain and his family had escaped to St. Louis. His child’s eyes have seen the adult carnage from conflict.
When News 4 asked Turki about the violence in his native country he said: “It’s so dangerous!” He also said he was “happy” to be in the United States because he’s “safe.” But now, he is a beaming boy kicking around a bouncing ball on brand new artificial soccer green.
The new soccer field was made possible by $200,000-worth of cash donations and services. It is the result of the Gateway Welcome Project. More than two-dozen partners collaborated on the cause including Construction Forum St. Louis and the St. Louis Mosaic Project.
Tom Finan, Executive Director of Construction Forum St. Louis said: “If you don’t care who gets the credit then you can actually make some change for a positive.”
Peter Tow is credited with galvanizing the group toward running toward a common goal of empowering immigrant children with an outlet.
Finan said of Tow: “Peter’s dad and my dad were friends and Peter’s dad was an immigrant from China." When asked about his great-great-grandfather who emigrated from Ireland, Finan indicated that he could relate to the immigrant children who played soccer behind him.
Many of the students are refugees in St. Louis seeking relief. Flags from their various countries adorn the hallway inside Nahed Chapman New American Academy. The decorations display the school’s global perspective with a local purpose which are now underscored by soccer.
School Principal Donnie Harris said, “No matter where they’re coming from, even if they don’t speak the same language; they know soccer.”
St. Louis Mosaic Project Executive Director Betsy Cohen said, “We have stories of kids from various ethnicities coming together on the soccer field when they couldn’t communicate yet in the classroom."
When 12-year-old kid Gehadaldain Turki was asked about the community push for a new field he said something very simple yet very significant, “Thanks you so much.”
According to U.S. Census data, as of 2010, roughly 126,000 people in the St. Louis Region were born abroad. The St. Louis Mosaic estimates that roughly one in four is a refugee.
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