FC Motown manager Sacir Hot, as a member of KickStart Joy, is bringing the joy of soccer to Syrian refugees in Europe.
When KickStart Joy was started by former MLS standout Mehdi Ballouchy last year, he immediately brought the idea to Hot, as the pair had grown close during their time with the New York Red Bulls. Hot immediately went for the deal, and from there, they prepared for their first visit to the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.
“(Ballouchy) used to gather up cleats from his team’s locker room and send them to Morocco,” Hot commented. “He called me and said, ‘Sac, let’s try and take this to another level, let’s gather up cleats and see how we can make a bigger impact.’”
And together, the pair certainly did make a big impact. KickStart Joy gathered over 250 cleats from the locker rooms of both professional and youth clubs around the country. Along with a huge number of cleats, Hot and Ballouchy brought former professionals to help run four clinics a day for five days. The children would come to the turf field, put on the boots, and then leave the boots for the next clinic. Following the clinics, the boots would be distributed by the coaches running the clinics. While this was certainly a positive element, Hot wanted to do more.
“We wanted every kid to get to go home with these nice cleats so they can still keep playing,” Hot added. “So this year we gathered up 600 cleats so kids aren’t going to be leaving without cleats.”
In addition to the 600 boots, Hot and Ballouchy added a number of current and former professionals to help with the clinics, including Nadia Nadim, a player for the Denmark Women’s National team and Manchester City, who first played soccer in an Afghan refugee camp. Former MLS players George John and Ethan White will also join KickStart Joy this summer. The support will be extremely helpful, as this year, KickStart Joy will be running clinics and donating cleats to two refugee camps: both the Za’atari camp and the Azraq camp, around 45 miles away.
“The Za’atari camp has UEFA funding and Ronaldo recently donated there, so we are going back there but we also wanted to find more people to help,” Hot continued. “So we wanted to find more found another camp around 45 minutes away and we decided to add that.”
Hot’s inspiration to play such an integral role in this foundation is deeply personal. Hot’s parents were both war refugees during the Balkan Wars, forced to flee Montenegro preceding the arrival of the conflict.
“(My parents) were the biggest motivation, their experience was such a big influence on me,” Hot said. “But I just love being able to help people.
Though Hot said donating boots and running the clinic is “the smallest thing,” that thing can mean the world to the children of the camps. And for Hot, seeing the joy of the children while they are playing means the world to him.
“You look at these kids as they are playing and you could mistake them for any kids here in the United States, there’s no sadness in them, they were all enjoying the game,” Hot said. “But then when they take the uniforms off you can see and you and tell that these kids went through these traumatic experiences.”
While the foundation is currently situated entirely in a garage, Hot doesn’t see any limits to how the foundation can grow, and hopes to help as many people as he can.
“Right now we’re working out of a garage, but we are picking up steam,” Hot concluded. “We are picking up steam, next year we will have a website, social media, and we might end up going to Greece or somewhere in the Middle East. Our goal is to get bigger.”
Though cleats may be an overlooked element of the game, for the children helped by KickStart Joy, they mean a pathway to the beautiful game.
Contributor: Daniel Cermak/NPSL.com
Photo Credit: Sam Powers