Former Chelsea Women’s captain, and now club ambassador, Katie Chapman has been on a mission to the Jordan/Syria border, to run football training sessions in a refugee camp.
“We have a perception of refugees,” said Katie. “I wanted to go and experience what life is really like for these people.”
In a three-day visit to the Azraq refugee camp, Katie and a group of Chelsea Foundation coaches ran 10 sessions for Syrian children whose families have fled their homeland since the conflict began in 2011.
Working with the football club’s global charity partner, Plan International, she was able to gain special access to the camp in the desert outside the Jordanian capital Amman, which is home to more than 35,000 Syrian refugees, to give training sessions to groups of boys and girls aged 10 to 17.
The camp is split into villages, encouraging community spirit between the occupants, with 9,000 refugees in Village 5, which Katie visited – housed after fleeing ISIS-held areas in neighbouring Syria.
They cannot move freely in and out of the camp, with the area surrounded by high fences, and it has only just received electricity. As well as the coaching sessions, Katie and the Chelsea Foundation staff met mothers and their babies, one just 15 days old, attending an early childhood care and development centre.
Katie, herself a mum-of-three, visited a second ‘village’ within the refugee camp to meet a family in their shelter, hearing the story of how they fled Syria to come to Jordan.
“To visit the family and their shelter was unbelievable,” she said. “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.”
Katie said that the camp, while by no means perfect, at least gave the families in it, and especially the children, hope for the future. “It’s what a family should be like, it strips away all the technology and the rubbish that we have and take for granted,” she said. “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.”
As part of Chelsea’s partnership with the charity, football is used to break barriers, challenge attitudes and bring communities together.
Katie now hopes to be able to do more, and learn more, on similar trips in her new ambassadorial role. “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.”
For more about the charity that is working with children – especially girls – in the refugee camps, visit: www.plan-uk.org