To mark World Refugee Day, RIFA, Goal Click and Danish sportswear brand hummel have teamed up on a project to showcase the role of soccer in creating dialogue in a divided world. Three players from RIFA (Rooklyn International Football Association) - a Brooklyn-based organisation working with refugee, asylee, and immigrant youth through soccer - told the inside story of their lives and experiences with RIFA and New York City over the course of two months in 2019. The collaboration is part of the 5683 campaign, aimed at finding common ground and a simple faith in humanity across the divide. Litzy Perez is originally from Mexico and plays for the LIU (Ladies International United) team at RIFA.
Who is in these photos? Do any of them have interesting stories?
The people who are in these photos are my family and teammates. They were taken at my home and the fields where I usually play.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
I tried to show how soccer can bring people together, not only family and friends but people from around the world. The team I am in is LIU (Ladies International United) - we have ladies from all over the world playing in our team. We have people from Spain, Brazil, Ireland, Paraguay, France, Germany, Mexico, USA, Ecuador, and from many more. I love how a sport can bring people from different backgrounds and different races together to work as a team.
Can you tell us your personal story?
I wasn’t always outside, on the field, or hanging out around people. I feel like I really messed up my life and education. I personally feel soccer has changed my life from where I was five years ago. Five years ago, on March 11 2014 at 8:00am, my sister was getting ready to leave for school and so was I, except school started for her at 8:15am and I started at 8:40am. I remember her friends Omar and Natalia came to pick her up, to walk to school. I remember trying so hard to act as if everything was okay, but deep down I knew it wasn’t.
My sister finally left and said goodbye, to behave, and to go to school. By the time she left everyone was either at school or work. I was the last one to go. Go? But I didn’t want to go. I remember thinking how I really didn’t want to go. It was just going to be another day in hell on earth, another day getting bullied, being lost and hopeless. If only they had believed me. If only they would have helped me. Haven’t I suffered enough? I remember thinking it’s better if I end the pain. Maybe I wouldn’t feel the pain anymore, I would be numb.
March 11 2014, 8:40 am. Instead of going to school I try to commit suicide. I survived...I am still here and I am not going to give up. What happened did change my life but I’m not going to let it keep dragging me down. It’s June 2019 and I am still in high school but hey, I am trying. Little by little I am getting my life together again. Yes it happened five years ago, but it still leaves a psychological scar. To this day I struggle with my depression and anxiety and PTSD. But instead of letting it drag me down I use it in a way. I drag it with me in the field, I don’t run away from it anymore, I learned to cope and run with it.
Soccer has changed my life. It gave me something to look forward to. It helped me get out there. In February 2019 my sister mentioned the young leaders training program and how I should sign up to it. I thought it was just going to be a soccer training program, but little did I know it was going to give me that little push, that inspiration to finally come out and accept what had happened and that I survived.
Throughout the five years after, I have been learning and playing soccer and it taught me how to have more personality, confidence and be active and stand strong. With that program I have learned that through soccer I can help people going through what I went through. What I experienced in that program was totally unexpected and it really helped. Through soccer I have made many great friendships and learned about the beauty in life and within the sport. I thank coach Prospero for the opportunities and programs. I never played football before I came to this country.
Why did you leave your country?
I left Mexico when I was little. My mother and father wanted a better life for my sister and me. I was three years old. I remember very few things, but I know my mother and father came to the US because they really wanted to get good jobs and save up money to buy a home so they can give us the best education and a better life. I know there was a lot of crime and corruption in Mexico and it was very risky to be seen with a good car or clothes or even with a bag or backpack. My father wanted a safe life and childhood for me and my sister so they came to the USA.
I have very few memories of Mexico. But one memory I just don’t ever want to let go of is when I was at my father’s parents' house. My grandfather, who is also named Rodolfo like my dad, used to play the guitar and sing for me and my sister. I remember before he started to play, he cut cucumbers, added some lime and salt and a Mexican fruit hot sauce, and gave it to me and my sister and started to play as we snacked. Sadly he is no longer with us, he passed away when I was in third grade here.
What is your favourite photo?
There is a photo with my sister laughing and all the trophies in the background. She was the one who got me into soccer. It really turned my life around and helped me have hope.
Why is football important for you and your community?
It’s so important because it can bring people together and create bonds that are quite unique. I believe it brings good out of people as they work and play together. Football is what I look forward to and it brings my family and friends together.
How has RIFA/LIU changed your life?
LIU helped me find hope and have a chance to play and made me aware that I did it - I survived! I can beat my depression after thinking it was unbeatable. Also they helped get my story out there to help people that are in my situation or around the situations I have been and see the bright side.
Do you play football now with any Americans? How do you find the American people?
I play with people from all over and it feels great to have something to connect over with people from different backgrounds.
What ambitions do you have for the future?
I want to be a teacher or policewoman, to help people and teach kids a better way to live life. I believe the kids are the future.