Freshman biology major Rohit Batish said he believes soccer is a universal language – that’s why it’s the focus of one organization that wants to raise awareness of the community living with HIV/AIDS.
The first collegiate chapter of Grassroot Soccer was started at Temple this semester. President Haseeb Goheer said he proposed the idea of starting a college chapter to a liaison in the international organization. The fellow freshman biology major was the first person to propose its introduction at educational institutions, he said, calling it “the test run” for chapters at universities.
“Grassroot Soccer is an international nonprofit organization that utilizes the power and game of soccer to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS around the world,” Goheer said.
Temple’s chapter specifically hopes to spread awareness in North Philadelphia.
Goheer said as it’s in the beginning stages, Grassroot Soccer at Temple is attempting to spread awareness of its existence within the student body. Along with Goheer, freshman chemistry major Chey Jones is vice president and Batish acts as treasurer. They knew each other prior to the creation of the organization after meeting at a pickup soccer game during orientation week.
“[Jones and I] were just walking around Temple during orientation week, and there was a soccer game going on,” Batish said. “So then we met [Goheer] there and we became friends really quickly. He said, ‘Hey, do you want to join Grassroot Soccer?’ It all started from just right there. He just asked us and we were like, ‘Alright, let’s go.’”
The love of soccer brought them together initially, but once the three became involved, they said they began to appreciate the goals of the organization. Goheer said he was first introduced to Grassroot Soccer as a freshman in high school. He continued to become involved throughout high school until in his senior year, when he was offered the chance to become a student ambassador for the organization.
Goheer said he felt driven to make a difference, and remembered his desire to “promote this cause to be with an organization of [collegiate] standing.” Although Temple’s organization is a chapter, Goheer said they have freedom to organize at will.
“We’re independent but we raise money for the international organization, and we spread the message about HIV/AIDS,” Goheer said.
Grassroot Soccer leaders will be organizing guest speaker events, soccer tournaments and educational seminars. At their next meeting, they will discuss design plans for flyers and posters they hope to put up around Main Campus.
The group has its sights set on some long-term goals as well, like organizing a needle exchange program at one of the clinics in the area and hosting educational seminars where students from local schools can come and learn about HIV/AIDS prevention.
Just educating and spreading awareness isn’t enough, Goheer said. In order to prevent HIV/AIDS, Jones said more has to be done to break down stereotypes and assumptions surrounding the disease.
“It’s important to note that although we hear it commonly affecting different demographics such as the gay community and [African-American community], everyone is susceptible to the disease,” Jones said. “Not everyone is aware of that.”
Goheer and Jones both said equality, respect and including everyone in the discussion by using the unifying game of soccer are essential parts of the group’s philosophy.
“If you have a soccer ball, you go to a field – everyone knows, ‘OK, there you go, soccer,’” Goheer said. “It’s by playing with each other, whether through sports, games, performance, music, that we are able to let go of our prejudices and find that common ground which we all have one foot on.”
Goheer remembered once playing a game of soccer with some children who didn’t speak English. He said soccer didn’t require the same words, just a unified appreciation for the game.
“That helped me connect with them – they couldn’t speak my language, but we could all play soccer,” Goheer said.
Grassroot Soccer meets every other Monday at 5 p.m. Its meeting location, typically a breakout room in the TECH Center, is announced every week on its Twitter account, @TUGrassroot.
“We’re always looking for new ideas, so the more people who participate the better,” Jones said.
James Leighton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.