Sport helps young football fan from Afghanistan settle in Germany

Shoaib, who found safety in Germany, is one of 12 displaced children daring to dream in The Dream Diaries.

The Dream Diaries gives children like 11-year-old Shoaib the chance to let their imagination run free.  © UNHCR/Humans of Amsterdam/Fetching_Tigerrs/Bernatskaya Oxana/Shutterstock.com

BERLIN, Germany – Safe from the conflict in Afghanistan, 11-year-old Shoaib has his sights set on one goal.

“When I wake up in the morning, I think about soccer,” says the young football fan. “I go to bed at night and I still think about soccer. In Afghanistan I played soccer and here in Germany I play soccer too. In my life, so many things have changed but playing soccer stayed the same.”

Shoaib, who found safety in Germany, is one of 12 displaced children daring to dream once more in a new collaborative photography project called The Dream Diaries.

The inventive series was produced by Humans of Amsterdam photographer Debra Barraud, her colleague Benjamin Heertje, online creator Annegien Schilling, filmmaker Kris Pouw and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

"In my life, so many things have changed but playing soccer stayed the same.”

Playing football with family and friends has kept Shoaib smiling, even in the darkest and most disruptive of times. In his homeland of Afghanistan, protracted conflict and persecution have resulted in nearly 4.7 million people being displaced as of 31 December 2016. In Germany, where Shoaib now lives, 12,346 Afghans registered as asylum-seekers  in 2017. Now Shoaib is determined to succeed as a famous football player.

In his dream, brought to life by The Dream Diaries team, he holds a flaming football.

“I wish I could be the best soccer player in the world, not just a regular player,” he tells The Dream Diaries team.

Shoaib knows how important teamwork can be. “Soccer should be played together, not alone. When it’s played together, then I love soccer.”

Over half of the world’s refugees are children and many spend their entire childhoods away from home. However, with the right help, they can find ways to cope and look forward to the future once more.

“I wish I could be the best soccer player in the world."

“Sports is a universal language and a perfect way of integrating refugees into German society," says Dr. Roland Bank from UNHCR Germany. "Integration is a two way process and the structures are already in place. German football clubs, voluntary fire brigades and other well-established civil society actors have opened their doors to newcomers. They are helping to create an environment in which children like Shoaib can be just like their peers."

The Dream Diaries gives children the chance to let their imagination run free.

“When children flee their home countries they leave everything behind, except their hopes and dreams,” says co-creator Debra Barraud, whose Humans of Amsterdam photography project has nearly half a million Facebook followers. “Through the project, we saw the strength of these children and how with the right support they can achieve anything.”

Audiences are being encouraged to stand #WithRefugees by signing UNHCR’s global petition, which asks decision makers to grant refugees safety, education and opportunities – turning their dreams into reality. You can follow The Dream Diaries series via Humans of Amsterdam, Fetching Tigerss and UNHCR’s social accounts.

Playing football with his uncle and cousin only strengthens Shoaib’s belief that people are better together.  

“When they play they don’t want to pass the ball,” he says. “They want to be the one to score the goal. To me it doesn’t matter who makes the score. If someone scores the goal, the whole team scores and wins.”


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