Khalid Yohana was 7 years old when war reached his hometown of Mosul, Iraq.
For years, even the simplest activities, like walking to school, were an ordeal.
"It was too scary to go outside much," Yohana, now 16, remembers. "If you walk on the street ... you're nervous you'd get killed."
A group of men once tried to kidnap his father, a chef at a Baghdad restaurant that catered to Americans. The attempt failed, but a threatening letter arrived at his family's home that same night.
"They warned us to get out of the country or they would kill us. ... I was really scared," Yohana said.
The family fled to a small village north, but when Yohana's school was bombed a year later, they left Iraq for good. They traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, and applied for refugee status so they could move to the United States legally.
In 2010, Yohana and his family arrived in San Diego. The family appreciated the safety of their new home, but they also encountered new problems. Yohana's father struggled to find work, and the entire family found it challenging to navigate a new country and culture.
"It was really hard because we (didn't) speak the language," Yohana said. He was often so discouraged by his poor English that he wouldn't even try to do his homework.
The social isolation was worse.
"It was really hard to find friends," Yohana said. "I was just sitting at home."
While working as a refugee case manager for a nonprofit, Mark Kabban saw many families like Yohana's struggle to find their footing in the United States.
"You lose a lot of your dignity when you become a refugee," Kabban said. "You have to flee your country, depend on others. You lose your self-esteem."
Kabban said the transition can be particularly challenging for children, who face educational and social barriers. The stress they endure often puts them at risk of getting on the wrong track.
"Their families have sacrificed everything for them to get here. So if (their kids) don't succeed, that's the biggest tragedy," said Kabban, 25. "It's something that I'm not going to allow."
To help support young refugees, Kabban started the YALLA program in 2009. The name is an acronym for Youth And Leaders Living Actively, but in Arabic it simply means "Let's go." YALLA provides free tutoring and soccer training to 200 boys and girls in the San Diego area.
While soccer is what mostly motivates the players, it's just a carrot to Kabban. Many of his players have missed years of formal schooling on their road to the United States, so the mandatory twice-a-week tutoring sessions are an integral part of the program.
"When they get here, they're years behind, and they're years behind in a different language," Kabban said. "So the need is just immense. We're working to get them literate in English, getting them ... caught up."
The YALLA staff also makes sure the players are registered to receive 25 hours of one-on-one tutoring from a statewide program. When necessary, YALLA also provides additional tutoring to those who are struggling. The hope is to help everyone get up to grade level and on a path to college.
According to the U.S. State Department, more than 10,000 refugees from around the world have moved to the San Diego area legally since 2007, making it one of the largest refugee resettlement areas in the country.
Many of those newcomers, like Yohana, are Iraqis who are under 18. The vast majority live in El Cajon, a city in San Diego County where YALLA is based. Mark spreads the word about the group by visiting area schools.
Most of the players in the program are Iraqi, but the group has players from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Sometimes ethnic and religious differences can lead to conflict, but Kabban says that as the soccer season progresses, the differences fall by the wayside.
"Their families have endured the same struggles," Kabban said. "When they realize that ... they become like brothers and sisters."
Some children have lost more than their homeland. Some have witnessed one of their parents being killed, or they've been kidnapped and tortured themselves. Kabban, who helps run many of the practices, tries to keep the atmosphere serious but fun so that time on the field is a much-needed escape.
"Soccer is (the) best therapy," Kabban said. "They have an hour or two to forget about everything and just be kids."
Kabban cares deeply because he faced many of the challenges the refugees are experiencing. He was never officially a refugee, but his family left Beirut during Lebanon's 15-year civil war, a conflict in which three members of his extended family were killed.