WEST RIDGE — In last few months, Chicago and surrounding suburbs have seen an influx of new neighbors — about 200 families seeking refuge from ethnic violence in their home country of Myanmar.
Many of these Muslim Rohingya political refugees have resettled in West Ridge, particularly with the April opening of the Rohingya Cultural Center of Chicago at 2740 W. Devon Ave.
The center now is trying to raise $3,500 for a summer soccer league. So far, only $50 has been donated toward the cause, but additional help would be "extremely" appreciated, according to the group's organizer.
Nasir Zakaria, executive director of the cultural center, wrote in a GoFundMe plea that the team had already raised $200 to play an initial game against a team from Mexico (they won), but could use donations for uniforms, shoes and league fees.
"We see participating in the local soccer league as a way to keep our young people focused on positive things like teamwork, mutual cooperation and physical exercise and keep them out of trouble," Zakaria wrote.
Though the number of Rohingya settlers has increased in recent months, Zakaria said the group has been represented in Chicago for about the past two years — specifically in West Ridge, where Zakaria said they have felt "welcomed."
Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar, once called Burma, are the religious minority in the Buddhist-led nation and have been persecuted since the early 1960s.
In 2013, conditions worsened as tensions grew between the two groups and many Rohingyans were forced into camps, causing many to flee.
Rohingya Muslims are considered "the most persecuted refugee group in the world," according to the Zakat Foundation of America, a religious nonprofit aimed at humanitarian efforts.
The groups said many Rohingya people were considered "stateless and deprived of basic human rights."
The cultural center provides lessons in learning English and computer classes, and has helped them adapt to life in the United States.
The soccer league will not only provide a fun outlet, but also to continue to become a part of the community.
"We hope to make them proud of our athletes' abilities, since we feel we represent the wider community as well as the Rohingya," Zakaria wrote. "It is very important to us as future American citizens to give back to our new neighbors and our new country.
"We want to give our young people a fresh start and set them on the right path."
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