iACT and GOALS partner to expand youth soccer program for children affected by the war in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)
“Armenia? What is iACT doing in Armenia?”
These are the kinds of questions that echo from friends and colleagues across the humanitarian space. The fact is, the humanitarian crises iACT responds to and the communities we work next to are not often in the media or at the forefront of people’s minds. And they are rarely the humanitarian cause splashed across social media platforms and news media.
As a global UNICEF colleague noted, “Ah, you work in the forgotten corners of the world.” And far too often, that is exactly how the communities we work with feel: forgotten.
With those questions fresh on our minds, in April, iACT Mindfulness Advisor, Traca Gress, and I traveled to Armenia to facilitate a Refugees United Soccer Academy (RUSA) training with soccer coaches from seven regions of the country. This trip was the second in a year-long partnership with The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer (GOALS) in which iACT is adapting and implementing our RUSA program framework and community-led approach with and for communities affected by the 2020 Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) war. GOALS – the only organization in Armenia using soccer for social impact – has a network of 80 volunteer coaches and is facilitating our work in Armenia as part of their long-term aim to strengthen the capacity of coaches to meet the developmental needs of children and youth.
The RUSA training took place in the beautiful small town of Goris, near the border of Artsakh. For four days, iACT created the space and opportunity for 24 coaches – both men and women – to come together and uncover their potential to play, have fun, be fully present, and to facilitate this same experience for children in their communities.
The training interweaved group circle time, icebreakers, mindfulness, soccer skills and drills, fun games, friendly 4×4 match play, and small group reflection. Coaches learned about an Academy coach’s responsibility to create a physically and emotionally safe environment, the importance of having fun while learning, and the philosophy that underpins RUSA’s commitment to displaced children.
One of the most special things about our time in Goris was the opportunity to spend entire days together: from breakfast at the hotel, to training and lunch, to dinner and long post-dinner conversations with coffee and tea. It was often in the moments in-between training, off-the-field, that we learned more about the ongoing impacts of the war, the daily life of the coaches and their motivations, and their hopes for Artaskh and Armenia. We were all there with a shared belief: we believed in the power of soccer to not only help children heal and develop life skills, but also to create a more peaceful future.
We invite you to join us–the Armenian coaches and iACT– in creating a more peaceful future through sport. Together, let’s extend hope and care to children and families who should never feel they live in a forgotten corner of the world. iACT is committed to continuing our work in Armenia with GOALS and with this amazingly dedicated group of coaches, growing our impact through listening, sharing resources, and mutual trust.