Former Arsenal Captain and new Arsenal Academy Manager, Per Mertesacker, has recently returned from Jordan where he visited Za’atari Refugee Camp to launch a new coaching programme, which has been co-developed by Arsenal and Save the Children, and funded by The Arsenal Foundation, to build vulnerable children’s courage and inner strength through football.
Working as one team, Arsenal and Save the Children have combined their expertise to create a unique programme to improve the mental wellbeing of children affected by conflict and violence. The ambitious programme has been developed over the last 18 months, harnessing almost 100 years of Save the Children’s child protection expertise and 33 years of Arsenal in the Community’s sports for development experience, and is initially being piloted in Jordan and Indonesia.
Over the last seven years – millions of children have been caught in the crossfire of the brutal war in Syria, witnessing horrors that no child should ever see. Za’atari is one of the world’s largest refugee camps and hosts nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees. More than half of its population are children and many have been living there for six years, ever since the camp was formed.
Per Mertesacker said:
“When children suffer – we all lose. People here have fled their country and I have no experience of that, so I talked to them and learnt a lot. It was a privilege for me to visit.
“The young people I met focus on what is happening now and this project will give them courage to cope with the struggles they face day to day, as well as providing them with the skills to have a better future.
“Whether you’re a young person on one of our community programmes in north London or part of our Academy, you’re part of the Arsenal family. We take our responsibility as a club seriously.”
Coaching for Life is not only bringing hope to Syrian refugees, it is also supporting children from Indonesia’s city slums, where thousands are at risk of exploitation and violence. Five pitches have been built in Za’atari Refugee Camp and seven pitches have been built in Jakarta. The project aims to reach 4,500 girls and boys over three years and the programme consists of seven coaching modules which will run over 20 week cycles.
“Save the Children and Arsenal understand the power of children and the power of football. Children are our future and we need to stand side by side with them. It was great to see the coaching in action and I am so proud that we are making a difference to the children living here.”
Among the children Per met was 15 year-old Mohammad. Mohammad has been living in the camp for 6 years after fleeing Syria when he was just 9 years-old.
“I love playing football, I forget everything when I’m on the pitch. Meeting Per has been a dream. Football teaches me respect and I’m excited to learn more skills from the coaches.”
The programme will incorporate a ‘Train the Trainer’ model – where Arsenal football coaches will teach the modules to 45 local trainers in Jordan and Indonesia. The male and female Arsenal coaches will live in each country for almost two months and work with Save the Children to ensure the programme is as effective as possible and tailored to meet the needs of the children in each community.
Rania Malki, CEO of Save the Children Jordan, said:
“Children living in Za’atari have experienced things that no child should ever have to. This innovative programme is helping us reach the most vulnerable children in the camp, particularly those at risk of child labour and early marriage. Save the Children has been committed to protecting children from conflict and violence for almost 100 years and now, thanks to Arsenal, we can empower and protect girls and boys through the sport they love.”
The coaching modules will address issues such as emotions, communication, decision making, self-esteem and conflict management. Through football, children will develop these skills as well as learn about their rights and the importance of gender equality. Save the Children and Arsenal will establish robust evidence to demonstrate how effective the programme is, with the future ambition to replicate it in other countries.
This ground-breaking programme aims to help children:
- explore how to constructively deal with emotions and identify ways to cope with stress through winning and losing games and managing unfair decisions on the pitch.
- learn about effective ways to communicate – enabling them to formulate and deliver their own assertive messages through passing the ball, body language on the pitch and discussing tactics for a match.
- learn how to make well-considered decisions and reflect on how the decisions they make will influence their futures through choosing teams, where to kick the ball on the pitch and how the decision to join the programme will improve their courage and inner-strength.
- increase their understanding of themselves and build their self-esteem through reflecting on who they are and who they want to be through learning the qualities that make a good footballer, discussing their role models and recognising their strengths and areas for improvements on the pitch
- develop and maintain positive relationships with other people through thinking about different relationships in their lives and on the pitch, what they value in these relationships, and how they can show appreciation to others, exploring empathy, trust and leadership.
- learn how to constructively manage a conflict and generate positive solutions through discussing the motivations of the opposite team, effectively attacking and defending on the pitch, as well as how to manage free kicks and penalties.
“Children will be encouraged to visualise their dreams and hopes for the future and identify ways to achieve them. The programme will also explore how girls and boys can make their community a better place. The goal is clear, together Arsenal and Save the Children will give these children back their childhoods and coach them towards a better future.”