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High school soccer: East High's African immigrants looking for a better life
By Jessica Wilde,
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
West and East play Friday, March 23, 2012. West won 3-2.
SALT LAKE CITY — Sept. 9, 2005, marked the beginning of a new life.
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It was a day that senior forward Hassan "A.J." Osman from the East High soccer team will likely never forget. After six long years in a refugee camp in Kenya, he began his journey to the United States.
Osman's family fled Somalia in 1999, eight years after the government had been overthrown and thousands of civilians had been displaced, wounded, and killed as part of the Somalia genocide.
Osman, one of three African immigrants on the East team, was relieved to leave behind the "fighting and shooting" taking place in the war torn country, though he was also forced to leave behind his friends and grandparents.
"My parents told me their story," Osman explained. "They wanted us to have a better life. They wanted to see our faces happy all the time." Osman was filled with emotion as he described his final day with his friends.
"They mean a lot to me. Even when I didn't have brothers, they were showing me love. When I left on the bus I was just crying because I was going to miss them."
Osman was playing soccer when he heard his friends yelling his name excitedly with the news that would change everything. His family was on the list of those able to be placed in the United States.
Five days later, he was on an airplane for the very first time — an experience he described as "exciting and scary." Osman, his parents, and three sisters were placed in Salt Lake City where they currently reside, though the family has grown, adding two younger brothers for Osman.
According to East assistant coach Ahmed Hussein, also a refugee from the Kakuma camp in Kenya, the system is set up in a way that refugee's pay back their airfare over time upon their arrival in the states.
The two other varsity players on the East High team, Abdi Iftin (Hassan's cousin) and Faysal Abdi, traveled to the U.S. in 2005 as well. All four share similar experiences and are grateful for a chance at a better education, the opportunity of playing soccer in college, and ultimately a better life here in Utah.
Coach Hussein came to the United States with his grandmother after living in a war zone from 1992 to 1996, and several refugee camps throughout Kenya until 2001.
"No person could survive where I lived," he said, explaining his grandmother's choice to flee. "There were a lot of people dying. I would see people die and get shot right in front of me."
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