Earlier this month, Arsenal Ladies captain Alex Scott visited a camp in Khanaqeen, Iraq for children and families who have been forced to flee their homes due to war. Alex visited a football project funded by The Arsenal Foundation, in partnership with Save the Children, who have funded two artificial football pitches for young people living in the camps.
During the visit, Alex talked with some of the young girls who had lost their homes, the footage certainly made for emotional viewing. Immediately after Arsenal Ladies’ recent match against Reading Women, Tim Stillman caught up with Alex Scott to learn more about her journey to Khanaqeen.
“It was last year when I first sat down with Save the Children and Arsenal and they asked me whether I would be willing to go,” Scott explains, “I went away and thought about it, they told me I could have some time to think. I talked it over with my friends and family and I decided it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.”
The England full-back confesses that it was a hint of scepticism that made her mind up to go, “Some people didn’t want me to do it,” she admits, “Someone said something to me that totally changed my mind. They said, ‘why do this when you don’t have to?’ and I thought, ‘if everyone had that attitude, nobody would be helping these children or giving them any sort of hope.’ I knew then that I had to do it.”
31 year old Scott says the visit has given her new perspective, “Those children inspire me, they’re people just like you and me, but born into circumstances beyond their control, but they still have their hopes and dreams.
“I didn’t realise how disconnected I was,” she reflects, “You see Iraq on the news and you don’t think enough about it. I got upset so often during the visit because I couldn’t believe the living conditions and what these children go through every day, now I have seen for myself just how awful it is.”
Alex admits that the visit was intentionally kept secret for safety reasons, illustrating the dangerous conditions for the families that live there, “I flew back from the She Believes Cup in America on the Friday and flew out to Iraq on the Saturday. I was back to train with Arsenal on the Monday. It was a quick turnaround, but it needed to be kept like that for safety reasons.”
Scott grew up playing cage football with her brothers in a working class district in East London and she hopes that the pitches can offer the children in Khanaqeen an escape, “That cage in the East End was where I first had my hopes and dreams,” she explains, “The kids told me that they forget their problems and their troubles when they step onto that football pitch. Football can’t solve all of their problems, but the smiles on their faces when they were playing will stay with me.”
Scott also visited a favela in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 to promote the Street Child World Cup. It’s fair to say that there’s a theme in much of her charity work, “I’m so lucky to do what I do for a living. Arsenal plucked me from a football cage at the age of 8. It means a lot to me to spend time with these kids and football is very powerful for them. I hope I can give back through football, that it can help them improve their situation.”
The Arsenal Foundation
The Arsenal Foundation aims to transform the lives of young people through a range of education and sport initiatives in the UK and overseas. For more information, visit www.arsenal.com/thearsenalfoundation
Save the Children
Save the Children works in more than 120 countries and helps to save children’s lives, fight for their rights and help them fulfil their potential. For more information visit: www.savethechildren.org.uk