As the Coronavirus lockdown lifts in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, children have returned to the football pitch for vital coaching sessions run by Save the Children and Arsenal Football Club. The sessions are part of the ground-breaking Coaching for Life programme, co-developed and co-delivered by both organisations, which uses the power of football to support the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of children affected by war, poverty and exploitation.

“Through Coaching for Life we are helping them to build a better future, and as one child from the camp recently said – ‘we will not let Coronavirus steal our dreams’,” says Diala Khamra, CEO of Save the Children Jordan.

To ensure the children stay safe, they will be asked to wear masks, remain at a social distance from others, daily temperature checks will be taken by Save the Children volunteers and the children will be encouraged to regularly wash and sanitise their hands. The coaches have received Covid-19 safety training including good hygiene and social distancing practice. Children have also been encouraged to talk about their lockdown experiences to ensure that appropriate mental health support can be provided. Keeping the children safe and protected is a huge priority, with activities constantly being reviewed and adapted based on the latest government guidelines.

The coaching sessions are now more important than ever as children living in the camp, who’ve already had their lives upended by conflict and displacement, face yet more uncertainty because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Although there are currently no Covid-19 cases in Za’atari, the 76,000 Syrians living there have been in lockdown since 21 March, disrupting children’s education and family livelihoods. Save the Children staff in the camp report that many children were withdrawn, lonely and stressed during lockdown, with many stating that they missed exercise and playing with friends.

Save the Children and Arsenal have been working to reach as many children and families as possible during this time through virtual groups to deliver sessions to support their mental and physical wellbeing. The content of these sessions was developed to help children make sense of their new reality during lockdown.  To ensure Coaching for Life participants felt connected to Arsenal, children were asked to send good luck video messages to the First Team ahead of their successful FA Cup final.

“Since fleeing my home in Syria in 2013 I have suffered from trauma and depression,” says Ghaith*, a 17-year-old Syrian refugee who lives in the camp. “My uncle was murdered in front of us and four of my cousins were burned, I saw explosions and missiles would fire.

“When the government first mentioned Coronavirus we were scared and our spirits were shattered, fearing it would come to us and end our lives. During lockdown I felt fatigued and exhausted. I had to stay at home and couldn’t see any of my friends.

“When lockdown lifted, I could see my friends again at the pitch. Thanks to Arsenal and Save the Children, we can train and play football again, which has shifted my mental state. We have classes about emotions and how to deal with our thoughts.”

Launched two years ago, Coaching for Life harnesses more than 100 years of Save the Children’s child protection expertise and 34 years of Arsenal in the Community’s sports for development experience. The programme is leading the way and developing a robust evidence base in how the power of football can directly support children’s mental health and resilience, even in some of the most deprived areas of the world.

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Nisha Kotecha is the Founder of Good News Shared. Having worked and volunteered for charities in the UK for over 10 years, Nisha is on a mission to highlight how amazing charities are.

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