Last week, iACT traveled to Armenia to launch football academies to support the social and emotional wellbeing of children impacted by the recent war in Artsakh (also known as Nagorno Karabakh). While the Armenian community welcomed our (fully vaccinated) team and shared their exceptional hospitality, the wounds of war remain raw and heartbreak was evident. It was an honor to be part of a group that was able to ignite joy among coaches and partners, which we know will be extended to the children of Armenia and Artsakh.
This year-long project is 40% supported by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, and is in partnership with the local Armenian organization Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer (GOALS). While there, our team trained 19 coaches and selected three to serve as Academy coaches. Coaches will be engaged with communities located in the border town of Goris and its surrounding areas. The coaches were trained using iACT’s Refugees United Soccer Academy (Academy) program framework and traveled from all over the impacted areas of Armenia. Some of the coaches came from Artsakh, a two-hour drive through the Russian-peacekeeping held Lachin Corridor, while others traveled from border villages, located up to six hours away. Several coaches were from Goris and the surrounding villages, where many displaced families have come to live.
The Academy training camp was held over a 5-day period, during which time the coaches experienced the routine of an Academy session. Coaches learned also about Academy coaches’ responsibilities, the program pillars of—peace, helping, and sharing—, and the philosophy that underpins the Academy’s commitment to displaced children. And they LAUGHED! On the first day, most of the coaches, ranging in age from 20 to 70, struck a very serious mood and stayed close to partners whom they already knew. The Academy routine that interweaves group circle time, icebreakers, mindfulness, team-based activities, soccer skills and drills, fun games, and friendly 4×4 match play naturally begins to break down barriers and open hearts. In our closing circle on the final day of training camp, so many of the coaches spoke about lifelong friendships that had been made and the unity that the team of coaches had formed.
To end the training camp, we invited 15 children displaced by the war to join us. Coaches were divided into teams of four or five and they facilitated an Academy training session based on what they had experienced over the last few days. It was incredibly moving to see how the coaches came together to seamlessly facilitate an Academy session while practicing welcoming circles, mindfulness, and strength-based coaching. The children, mostly girls, were smiling and giggling as they played and learned. One final game of snake tag (the person who is tagged has to join hands/arms with the person who is “it,” to create a snake that tags other people) brought laughter and shrieks to the children and adults.
iACT is making at least a three-year commitment to this project. This training camp was the first in a series of three that the selected coaches will complete. All other coaches are welcome to return to the next training camp, and we hope to have even more coaches from border regions who will attend. After the third training session, coaches who have completed all three sessions can train new coaches, and the impact expands.
This was my first time leading a Refugees United Soccer Academy training camp for coaches. It offered me the ability to pull skills from so many areas of my life—playing soccer, coaching girls, training and facilitating workshops and retreats, leading teams, and sharing the iACT model of humanitarian action. While all of these skills were useful in this experience, what ultimately made the training camp successful was trust. Trust in our partners—Aurora and GOALS— to support the vision and to take care of the details. Trust in the coaches that they would open their hearts and minds to me as a coach and to the Academy, in order to learn a new approach to teaching football. And finally, trust in the Academy process that was co-created over several years with Darfuri refugees living in eastern Chad, and which is now supporting the social and emotional well-being of children impacted by violence all over the world.
Stay connected as we continue this journey! More updates will come!
You can support the project by: -Donating (100% of donations go towards the project): bit.ly/iACT4Artsakh -Sporting a ‘For Artsakh’ t-shirt: purchase your shirt here -Kicking around a ‘For Artsakh’ soccer ball: purchase one here