Childhood is far from carefree for millions of children growing up in countries recovering from conflict. Even a simple game of football -- that's soccer to you and me here in the United States -- entails serious risk of injury or even death when a playing field may contain hidden hazards such as buried landmines or unexploded munitions. I recently returned from a trip to Amman, Jordan, where the United States partnered with a host of nongovernmental partners to sponsor a special soccer tournament to raise awareness of these dangers for children and coaches participating from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and the West Bank.
As the world's single largest financial contributor to post-conflict efforts to remove landmines and unexploded munitions, the United States is proud to have partnered with dozens of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to deliver more than $1.5 billion in aid so far to reduce risks in nearly 50 countries through our U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program. But survey and clearance operations are only half of the story: U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action also supports Survivor Assistance programs to help the injured and their families, as well as Mine Risk Education programs like this one aimed at preventing injuries in the first place.
The festival was conceived by Spirit of Soccer, one of our 63 partners in humanitarian mine action. Founded in 1996 by coach Scotty Lee after witnessing first-hand the impact of landmines and unexploded munitions on communities as a volunteer aid worker in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Spirit of Soccer has been dedicated to using soccer to teach more than 75,000 children in Bosnia, Cambodia, Iraq, and Kosovo about the dangers of landmines and other explosive remnants of war. The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs has been an active supporter, providing grants worth more than $400,000 to Spirit of Soccer's Mine Risk Education efforts.
Working in partnership with FIFA, the Jordanian NGO Generation for Peace, the Jordanian National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation and the Jordanian Soccer Federation, Spirit of Soccer opened the festival with a five-day coaching clinic and Mine Risk Education course for 30 boys and girls from some of the most heavily mined places in the world. This educational component was followed by a two-day football festival for 64 female and male players.
After the festival, the young participants will return to their local communities as coaches to organize football tournaments of their own -- as well as to spread the word among their peers about how to recognize and avoid landmines and unexploded munitions.
Who knew the "beautiful game" could do such a world of good?