Chelsea Foundation

'It gives these children a future...'

From Stamford Bridge in west London to a Syrian refugee camp in the Jordanian desert.

It is a stark contrast, and one Katie Chapman, former Chelsea Women captainandnow club ambassador experienced this week when she joined our charity partner Plan International and Chelsea Foundation coaches at the Azraq Refugee Camp outside Amman.
 

There, they delivered a series of football coaching sessions and met adults and children displaced by the conflict in Syria, from which more than 5.5 million people have fled. The visit provided the refugees with top-level guidance, fun and laughter, but more importantly a sense of hope for the future and the knowledge they have not been forgotten by the outside world.

‘It has been an emotional, heart-breaking experience but it has taught me a lot,’ Chapman reflects on departing Amman. ‘We question things in our own lives but it is nothing compared to what these people are going through. Seeing some of these people being happy with as little as they have will stay with me.

‘We often have a perception of refugees, and I wanted to go and experience what it was really like for those people who have lived through some awful times and see how they are living now within the camp.

‘Driving in, there is nothing around, just desert, then seeing these camps, villages, that have been built to help people - they’re so very basic, but people have made their lives in these shelters for years, and maybe for years to come. It was a shock to see children everywhere, just walking around or entertaining themselves with bits of rubbish, stones, and the most basic of things to play with.’

Chapman is 36 and a mother of three boys. The trip originally appealed because it involved working with children, and during it, she spent time in a family shelter as well as meeting mothers and new-born babies and toddlers, who only know life inside the Azraq camp.

‘To visit the family and their shelter was unbelievable,’ she says. ‘They have made it so homely from such limited resources, and their story, with six children trying to cross a border with the danger of bombs and snipers, people taking money off them as they try to escape, all while being hungry and thirsty, trying to find somewhere safe, was just incredible. I had tears in my eyes as we listened.

 

'I had tears in my eyes as we listened. It was a heart-breaking story, but with joy at the end. '

photo of Katie Chapman Katie Chapman

‘It was a heart-breaking story, but with joy at the end. The refugee camp is not amazing but it gives these families, these children a future, and it gives them a life. It’s what a family should be like, it strips away all the technology and the rubbish that we have and take for granted.

‘They are a real family, they spend their days together, they eat together. They have no choice but they are making the very most of it, and they have created a home. The kids are gaining qualifications, they are such positive people.’

On the pitch too, there were hundreds of examples of kids taking every chance to enjoy themselves in front of their high-profile visitors. The power of football and the Chelsea badge goes a long way, even thousands of miles away from SW6.

A 3G surface was built two years ago to provide a hub for football activity, paid for by various non-governmentorganisationsoperating at Azraq. Boys and girls, men and women use it, with Plan International running tournaments for refugees of all ages to participate in.

‘The football pitch was great, it was a lovely facility and a great quality for the kids to enjoy,’ Chapman says. ‘To see their faces and see how happy they were to be playing football and to see us from the outside and the excitement it caused was fantastic. To be a part of that, using something as simple as football, was overwhelming.

‘All that mattered was the kids enjoying the sessions for that hour, providing them with some memories they cansavour. And they are memories we will all take away as well.

One final reflection promises further involvement with such visits.

‘I have loved being on this trip,’ she says. ‘I am so grateful to the Chelsea Foundation and Plan International for giving me the opportunity. I really hope to be able to do more and learn more on similar trips and visits in the future.

‘Without Plan International and the other charities that are working at Azraq, these people would have nothing – no education, no nurseries, no football facilities or even footballs. It’s so important. It gives these people hope when they have nothing and nowhere else to go.’

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