Cultural groups fundraise for charity in Battle of the Bruins soccer tournament

Crowds screamed. Music boomed. Amid a sea of flags, third-year psychology student Tatiana Maia – representing her home country of Brazil – drew her foot back to shoot.

But this was no FIFA World Cup. Instead, Maia – an exchange student from Brazil – was looking to win the Battle of the Bruins, a charity soccer tournament hosted Sunday afternoon by the Middle Eastern Student Association at UCLA. More than 400 people from eight different cultural organizations attended the event, holding flags and wearing colors representing their region.

The tournament raised $665 in total. The winner – the Pakistani Students Association – chose to donate the money to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, an organization providing medical aid to children in places including Palestine and the occupied West Bank.

[Related: Middle Eastern Student Association at UCLA fundraises $24,300 for Gaza relief]

Lana Sami, MESA’s external vice president and lead organizer of the event, said MESA’s intramural soccer team inspired the event. As the team became more popular, the idea for a charity soccer tournament was conceived, she said.

“We made the intramural soccer team, and the love for it built up from there,” she said. “We got a chance to collaborate with a Mexican organization, a Brazilian organization, … an East African organization – so it was just amazing.”

Planning for the tournament began around four months ago when Sami reached out to other clubs, she said. She added that once teams were selected, the clubs met weekly to decide scheduling and which charities each group would compete for.

Pictured are students competing in the tournament. (Karla Cardenas/Daily Bruin)

The eight teams hailed from a variety of locations across almost all continents. Gianna Karkafi, a first-year neuroscience student who played for the Lebanese Student Association’s team, said she decided to compete to try to connect with clubs of different backgrounds in a fun way.

Karkafi added that she thought soccer was a good strategy with which to fundraise because the sport unites many cultures.

“Soccer is a big sport in so many different countries,” Karkafi said. “It’s also fun to watch, so people will come and support, and everyone’s interested in it.”

Afnan Khawaja, a fourth-year computer science student and member of the Pakistani Students Association, said he appreciated how the tournament brought people together for a good cause. He added that he wanted to compete with his fellow club members in the tournament because of the strong community he has found with them.

“I’m an immigrant from Pakistan, so coming here, finding my own community from Pakistan was great, and it makes me feel at home more,” Khawaja said. “Even just finding someone with the same language to speak to, I can speak more comfortably.”

Participants also said they enjoyed interacting with other organizations. Nouran Maayeh, a first-year psychobiology student, said cultural groups coming together gives students confidence and amplifies their representation on campus.

Khawaja added that he thinks it is important for cultural groups on campus to work together and share new ideas and perspectives.

“If you stay with people with the same ideologies and same ethnicities, it’s like you’re in an echo chamber,” he said. “You’re talking to yourself, and you just hear your own ideas.”

Sami said MESA is currently hoping to collaborate with UCLA’s Palestine Children’s Relief Fund chapter to host a charity class that teaches students tatreez, a form of Palestinian embroidery.

However, she said Battle of the Bruins would be MESA’s largest collaboration event of the year and possibly in its history.

“It was definitely probably the hardest thing we’ve ever planned, but it turned out great,” Sami said.