Wow. When Liam Cook and I arrived at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, I can definitely say we were both beyond nervous. I have been working with iACT helping spread awareness on the global refugee crisis for a few years now, and at that moment I couldn’t believe I was about to board a plane with the iACT team to Sweden to actually meet the Darfur United Men’s Soccer Team (DU).

As an intern, I had already spent weeks writing press releases, creating internal itineraries, and uploading flight information. It was a surreal moment when we finally landed in Östersund, Sweden.

We met the DU players later that night in the hotel conference room. It was a little uncomfortable at first but soon everyone was laughing like old friends. When I shook hands with all of them introducing myself, I couldn’t have known then how much they would influence my life today.

I am on the Model United Nations debate team at school. For each debate we become well versed in topics similar to the Darfur genocide. Whether it has to do with Colombian rebel groups or child soldiers, we learn to argue and prove solutions to fix these crises. We debate the case studies and print graphic images for our research binders. However, it is never real. Our debates are all a simulation and at the end of the day, we return home and close the tabs of research on our computers. The severity of the situations we talk about never rang true to us.

This trip has personally changed that for me. Each of these Darfur United players have their own case study, their own traumatic pasts. We met and interviewed them and it became personal. It was not just another tab of research on our computer screens. They would tell me how much being on Darfur United means to them, to represent their country, and to provide hope to their families and friends. Despite using broken English, each player never failed to communicate the emotion and pride he had for this team and for iACT; or, as they would call it, “my everything.”

To be a part of this groundbreaking humanitarian organization that is their everything is an incredible opportunity.

They were no longer the Darfur United team of former refugees but they were friends, role models, athletes. They were full of life and personality. They have all been through so much but their resilience and hope could not be missed.

iACT and Darfur United have shown me the importance of a personal connection, the importance of being a family. We were all there to do our jobs and make the difference but with no shortage of laughs and giggles. I already miss it and cannot wait to see this family grow and alter the status quo of humanitarian aid.

I consider myself lucky. Lucky to be a part of this family, lucky to meet such an amazing group of soccer players, lucky I get to play a role in this movement for hope.

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