Women's History Month


The positive impact of Coaching for Life

On the 12th anniversary of the start of the Syrian War, Coaching for Life, a football programme that builds sustainable resilience in children living in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, continues to have a profound positive impact.

Using a blueprint developed over 38 years of Arsenal in the Community’s work in north London, combined with Save the Children’s experience in conflict and humanitarian crises, Coaching for Life uses the power of football to build a sense of belonging and improve the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of children.

Launched in Za’atari in 2018 – one of the world’s most populous refugee camps which hosts around 80,000 people, more than half of whom are children – Coaching for Life focusses on supporting children and their families who fled their homes since the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011.

A new film launched today tells the stories of Jana and Ward, Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan with their families to set up a new life in the camp. Click the play button above to discover their journey.

Jana, a 13-year-old refugee

Meet Jana

Jana is a 13-year-old girl from Dar’a, Syria, who lives in Za’atari camp following the conflict in her hometown. Jana’s commitment to Coaching for Life means she travels by bike across the camp to attend the sessions. A shy and quiet girl, before joining the programme, Jana found it hard to express her emotions and opinions.

“I have lived in Za’atari for 10 years. We came here after the war,” Jana says in the film.

“Whenever there was aircraft, I would get scared by the noise. So we came here. My father got us here.

“I was so happy I signed up with Arsenal. When I play football, I feel happy. I feel full of energy and optimism,” added Jana.

Jana’s mother spoke about arriving in Jordan and the impact of Coaching for Life on her daughter. “We had nothing at all. We just escaped to save ourselves with our IDs only. We got here, we lived in tents, and we suffered.

“Coaching for Life changed Jana. 180 degrees, it changed my daughter. I think she started to love life again. It was like she had been dead, a body with no soul, but suddenly she started to love life, to love people.”

Ward, a 20-year-old assistant coach

Meet Ward

Ward is 20 years old and has lived in the camp since 2012. After participating in Coaching for Life, he wanted to become a junior coach so he could support other children in the camp. When he turned 18, he began to work for Save the Children as an assistant coach.

Ward’s mother talks about leaving Syria back in 2012, “We left Syria to come here. The strikes, the horror and fear. We were worried about the children, and we left with them.”

Ward added, “When we came here, the situation changed. We left our friends. Some didn’t come with us, and some died.

“After we got into this programme, we learnt how to build relationships on the pitch and how to make decisions.”

Ward plays football with fellow coaches

Reflecting on five years of Coaching for Life, Vinai Venkatesham, CEO of Arsenal, said:

“The stories we hear from children and their families in Za’atari shows the power football has to transform lives in our communities worldwide.

“We've taken the work we’ve developed over nearly 40 years with our north London community to support young children who’ve fled from the Syrian war, it’s inspiring to see the effect we can have.

“None of this would be possible without the Arsenal family coming together to provide a sense of belonging around the world.”

Speaking about the evolution of Coaching for Life, Mairead King, Director of The Arsenal Foundation, added:

“Over the next five years, our aim is to achieve long-term transformative and sustainable change for children in the Za’atari camp. To reflect this ambition, Coaching for Life has evolved to take into consideration the challenges facing the Za’atari community today, lessons learned from the last five years, and children’s voices to ensure their experiences are truly understood.”

“This includes making the programme sustainable by training more coaches, introducing mini-football leagues so there are more opportunities for children to participate, focusing on greater diversity by including children with disabilities, and having achieved gender equity on the programme, moving to a gender transformative approach by including boys and men in the conversation on the challenges that the girls and women face in the camp.”

An independent evaluation commissioned by The Arsenal Foundation and Save the Children to better understand the impact of Coaching for Life showed several positive outcomes that have supported improved mental health and psychosocial benefits among the participants:

  • Close to 90% of participants said they always felt safe as part of the programme
  • More than 90% felt that there was often or always an adult they trusted, who listened to them, told them when they did a good job, or really cared about them
  • Most child participants commented that the programme had improved their relationships with their parents, siblings or caregivers, as well as enhancing their self-worth, self-esteem and confidence
  • Female participants tended to report improvements in terms of learning to better express themselves, speak out, and overcome their shyness
  • Male participants tended to report improvements in terms of learning to treat others with respect, kindness, and less aggression

A letter from Lia Walti for Women's History Month

Lia Walti claps supporters at Emirates Stadium

On the final day of Women’s History Month, here is a letter from Lia Walti. 

In her own words, Lia talks about the importance of visibility, being a role model and the key to chasing your dream.

Visibility is everything. In this world, it’s so hard to be what you can’t see.

When I think back to my childhood, I have a lot of special memories of football, but it’s also quite sad to think that I didn’t have someone to look up to in the sport; someone who inspired me or who I could aspire to be.

There were generations of women’s footballers who obviously took all the small steps for us to get to where we are today, but they had to start so far back and all too often their stories were never told. Even on the rare occasion that it did appear in a newspaper, it was always the smallest printed story in the sports section.

I think the first time I could say I genuinely looked up to a women’s footballer was when I started to be involved with the national team aged 16. The reason why? It’s simple, I finally had the chance to get to know the players. At the start, it was only the players in the Swiss national team, but after a few more caps, I had the chance to analyse some other teams and I started watching women’s football more because it became accessible to me.

Lia Walti playing for the youth Swiss team

It was like I’d entered a whole new world because suddenly there were all these talented players that I’d never heard about before. Players like Marta were the only real exception. She was such an important figure for so many footballers of my generation because she was one of the only names that people actually knew.

We spoke about this a lot in Switzerland when we really tried to bring women’s football forward. We always said that you need to bring women’s football to the people, you can’t just expect people to go there themselves. Everybody tries to give responsibility to someone else, but if you put it on TV, people are going to watch it, and when people get to know the players, they become invested.

That’s when you create a supporter who wants to come and watch the games and buy a shirt for their favourite player. TV stations and the media have always had such an important role to play in the growth of the game.

For me and so many other players, we had to be the change that we wanted to see. Because of the previous generations, we were in a privileged situation where a lot of battles had already been fought and a lot of things were already in place, but the real push and action to actually make things visible wasn’t there yet, and I think that’s something that’s finally come with our generation.

I feel really privileged to have experienced both sides, when we weren’t being shown on TV and only had 100 people coming to the game, compared to now where we’re playing in front of sold-out crowds and big stadiums on BT Sport and Sky. It’s really nice to have seen both sides, but I also think that there’s still so much work to be done and that future generations will also have to fight for their next steps.

I just really hope that we never forget the work and sacrifice made by previous generations because we’ve all had a role to play in this.

To be honest, with the speed at which a lot of this growth has happened, some of it still really catches me by surprise. As someone who grew up without a role model in the women’s game, I find it incredible that I’m now considered that person for a lot of young supporters.

It’s funny to me because in myself I’m still just a normal person - we all are! But now that we’re doing something which is accessible for a lot of people to watch, it’s very easy to forget how much responsibility you actually have for what you’re doing on and off the pitch. But I personally find it really nice because I think it can affect young kids in a really, really positive way.

To have that opportunity to both show on the pitch what you can do and what your strengths are, then also show off the pitch how you can reach that by sharing your story, that’s something I find really nice. I love to have those conversations with young kids so that they can ask all the questions they want about how to one day be where we are, or just how to follow their dreams.

Lia Walti and Stina Blackstenius line up with mascots for Champions League quarter-final

Women’s History Month is so important for so many reasons to me. Not only because it’s a celebration of what women have achieved over history and in society, but also because more generally, it’s 2023 and every day we still have to speak about the different areas of women being disadvantaged compared to men.

Sport is an area where that can be easily highlighted. That’s why it’s so important for me to try and be a role model and to try and push the boundaries of football to make it better for future generations, and sadly I think every woman in their own category has had to do that one way or another.

We’ve seen what an incredible impact some of these changes have had on the world and that’s what keeps me so motivated to keep fighting and talking about moments like Women’s History Month.

So, to any young Gooners and girls out there, my message is simple; don’t be scared to dream. Take small steps, one at a time, and don’t look too forward. Don’t lose your smile and make sure that your happiness and enjoyment is right at the heart of your dreams.

If it’s what you really want, fight for it and work as hard as you possibly can, because you can do it.

Lia Walti playing football as a teenager

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