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Crash kills California couple who helped Darfur refugees gain independence through soccer

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — Souleyman Adam Bourma was 17 when he sought refuge in the sprawling Goz Amer refugee camp in eastern Chad, home to more than 250,000 Darfuris who have fled war in their homeland.

For half his life Bourma, once a farmer, has known no life beyond the camp’s boundaries — and had little reason to believe he ever would. Then he found soccer. Or more appropriately, soccer found him when Gabriel Stauring and Katie-Jay Scott, two South Bay, California, activists, showed up in Goz Amer with a soccer ball.

Bourma is among 22,000 refugees in 20 countries, from Chad and Tanzania, to Greece and the Central African Republic, who saw their lives changed since Stauring and Scott launched the Refugees United Soccer Academy in 2013. Now the future of that program is uncertain after a fatal four-car traffic accident Tuesday in Manhattan Beach that took the lives of Stauring, Scott and an elementary school principal, Christian Mendoza.

“A measure of what they left behind is the hundreds of people who’ve reached out to us in the last 24 hours and just said, ‘What can I do?’” said Ben Grossman, a member of the board for iACT, the nonprofit organization Stauring and Scott founded to fund work like Refugees United.

“They did so many things that didn’t have a formal title,” Grossman said. “They would consult on massively important projects, some of which they couldn’t talk about because they were so dangerous.”

Burgeoning crises all over the world led many humanitarian organizations to move on from Darfur, the western Sudan region that was the flashpoint for a war and ethnic cleansing against mostly poor non-Arab Sudanese that began nearly two decades ago. But Stauring and Scott stayed, doubling down on their work with the Refugees United Soccer Academy and other programs such as the Little Ripples childhood development program.

 

“We chose to go to the difficult places, the forgotten places,” said Stauring, who was 55. “Everyone left Darfur and we said we’re not going to leave.”

Stauring first visited Darfur in 2005 and returned 31 times to work with refugees, many of whom were born in the camps. He met Scott in Portland, where she was doing advocacy work on Darfur. When she asked to join the fledgling aid program he had created he agreed, providing she could raise her own salary.

She did, accompanying Stauring to Africa for the first time in 2008, a trip that was interrupted by an attempted coup. Two years later they were married and settled in Redondo Beach, where they marked their 11th wedding anniversary in September by holding an iACT fundraiser.

Stauring and Scott, who grew up in Mexico and played college soccer at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, introduced the sport to the camps in 2012, taking Team Darfur, a squad of adult Sudanese men, including Bourma, to an international tournament.

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