ltani Mortaza was about 5 years old when he first spotted a black-and-white checkered sphere, kicked about his neighborhood streets in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Mortaza recalled asking his father, Amir, what the unfamiliar ball was for, and his father explained: The boys were playing soccer.
“Every day my friends (and I) would play with it,” Mortaza said. Any time they lost a ball, they would pool their meager savings to buy another and keep playing. When they were in school, they would eagerly await the moment they could sprint outside and play again.
Since then, Mortaza, now 11, has been enraptured by the sport. Although he played as much as he could while living in Kabul, he was not able to join a team until he moved to the United States with his father and sister Farzana in August 2016.
He is now part of the Foothill Ranch Middle School team, which, Mortaza excitedly reported, recently won a championship tournament.
“When I was in Afghanistan I didn’t know how to shoot (the ball),” Mortaza said. “When I (came) here ... I was practicing with my friends, and now I know everything about soccer, and I love my life.”
Though Mortaza is happy to be on his school team, he really wants to be part of a soccer summer camp or league so that he can continue to improve his skills and keep busy while school is out.
“I would be so happy. … I will know, when I play in the summer, how to dribble and … score the goals.”
It’s a desire that has been a challenge to fulfill. A family friend of the Sultanis, Joe Sutton, met them when they first arrived in America, assigned to them through World Relief and Lao Family Community Development, humanitarian organizations that help immigrant families adjust.
He said the Sultanis fled Afghanistan, where two of Amir’s adult children still live, because Amir served the U.S. military and was threatened by the Taliban. Amir suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and receives disability income to provide for his family.
It isn’t uncommon for a season with a club soccer team to cost between $1,500 and $2,000 in fees and gear and other supplies. For a family living on about $1,400 a month, “it’s not even feasible,” Sutton said.
“(Mortaza) was very disappointed we couldn’t find something for him to do that didn’t cost money that he didn’t have,” he added.
Sutton has asked Book of Dreams readers to help the Sultanis pay for a soccer summer camp for Mortaza because he could work with some local coaches and “it would help improve his game and give him good physical outlets in the summertime.”
Mortaza has a dream to “go to a real place to play soccer” and be “like [Cristiano] Ronaldo.” The world-famous Portuguese professional soccer player is his favorite because he works hard and “scores a lot of goals.”
The boy said he just loves the game because it’s so fun to play when “you’re exercising and running and shooting the ball.”
Mortaza has focused on assisting each member of the family in some way since they arrived, including helping Amir navigate the American medical system and Farzana apply and prepare for college.
“I felt, here was something really special that would really make a big difference in Mortaza’s life,” Sutton said.
Needed: Money to pay for summer soccer camp fees and associated athletic supply costs for Mortaza Sultani, a passionate 11-year-old soccer player.