News & Events
After the Conflict: Advocacy for Local Refugee Communities
For Kroc School of Peace Studies alumnus Lars Stairs-Almquist (2011), the decision to accept a position with YALLA was a no-brainer. The job combined all of his social justice passions – sustainable development, conflict resolution, youth and education - into one opportunity. Now serving as YALLA’s Education Director and Operations Coordinator, Almquist’s goal is to guide refugee and immigrant youth on a path to college and ultimately, to a flourishing professional career.
YALLA, which stands for Youth and Leaders Living Actively and is an acronym for the Arabic phrase “Let’s go!” serves refugee youth in El Cajon, east of San Diego. It is the first comprehensive program in California that uses soccer to motivate elementary, middle and high school child survivors of war, as well as immigrant youth, to help rebuild their lives through education, leadership, and eco-therapy programs. The vast majority of these youth are Iraqi, having fled their home country to escape the dangers of living in an active war zone. YALLA also serves young people from Afghanistan, Assyria, Kurdistan, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, and South Sudan, along with a handful from Latin America and the U.S.
Although Almquist has only been in his position for 3 months, he has several ambitious goals, which he hopes to reach over the next nine months. First, he would like to see YALLA recruit, train and field the first all-girl refugee soccer team in the United States. Second, he hopes to establish a YALLA Education and Community Resource Center, a permanent resource center dedicated to after-school tutoring, support for job and college applications, the arts, resume workshops, and youth job skills training. Finally, he would like to successfully implement the YALLA Healing Garden, a community garden plot scheduled to break ground in early 2013, with an ultimate goal of training youth survivors of war and torture to cultivate organic, sustainable, culturally relevant produce for themselves and their families.
These are the lofty goals, but Almquist has also set weekly goals that are critical to YALLA’s success. For example, each week he strives to take one YALLA student out for a mid-afternoon meal, to find out about that student’s hopes and dreams, with the intent to channel the support needed to make those dreams a reality.
He is actively recruiting adult tutor-mentors, whom he refers to as"champions," who can look into students’ eyes and say, "You can do this. I’m going to help you make this happen."
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