Armenia Joins The CAC Family
September 9th 2016. Andrea Montalbano writes about the start of our partnership with Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer (GOALS). Andrea is a member of the CAC Business Advisory Team and the ASK For Choice Advisory Team. She is also the author of the Soccer Sisters book series.
The feel of fall is in the in New York air, but all we can talk about at our dinner table is our family’s recent trip to Armenia with Coaches Across Continents. We worked with CAC staff and Board Members Judith and Bill Gates in several different locations throughout the former Soviet Republic.
In the capital Yerevan, we trained with fantastic coaches and learned how powerful and fun sport for social change and education can be. We were based at the Football Federation of Armenia, the country’s governing body, and thrilled to work with their girl players and see the future leaders come alive on the field covering topics such as health and wellness, life skills, gender equality, problem-solving, and team building. Boys and girls were playing together, which was amazing because we learned that it doesn’t happen very often.
In the small village of Tumanyan, we worked with a variety of educators and community leaders in partnership with the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF). One of the most moving moments for me was to see men and women of all ages, debating and collaborating on policy toward the equitable role of women in society. The conversations were held in COAF “Smart Rooms” and using CAC technology – evidence to my eyes that conversations started on the field have impact off the field.
Our family’s last stop (CAC would continue on to Gyumri) was at the beautiful UWC School in Dilijan, where the student body is from over 70 different nations! Talk about a worldview. It was truly inspiring to see so many young leaders from all over the world working together and getting excited to bring CAC into their community.
One of the most impactful things I learned on the trip was to listen to the ideas of others, particularly the ideas of children. So I thought it only appropriate to do a brief Q&A with the rest of my family and start with the kids.
William Jebejian, 9
Q: Did you have a favorite game, William?
A: My favorite game was when you had to make the animal sounds (an adaptation of Mingle Mingle) and you had to switch. I liked how you kind of made a fool out of yourself, but it was really hard, because you were like, I think that was a lion, no it’s a cat! It’s really confusing. Meow! And it was so loud. And you don’t understand anything. You were just running around. It was so fun.
Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned through Coaches Across Continents?
A: That you should not rely on people to solve your problems and you should try and solve your own problems without asking someone to do them for you.
Lily Jebejian, 12
Q: Did you meet anyone who inspired you?
A: Sofik was an awesome leader and role model for all girls and even though I didn’t speak Armenian, I could understand by the way she coached. One night, we got to go to her house and it was cool to see where she was from and the rest of her family. They were welcoming and very sweet.
Q: You play a lot of sports here in New York. Were you surprised to see the differences in opportunities there?
A: Seeing all the girls show up to the field in dresses and sandals and fancy shoes, I thought, they have never played soccer before and it seemed kind of bizarre to me because basically everyone I know has played soccer before and would never have shown up to a soccer practice like that. It made me appreciate my town and the opportunities that I have more because I got to see how girls are not encouraged to play.
Diron Jebejian, who is of Armenian descent.
A: What surprised you the most about the curriculum?
Q: That it actually has very little to do with soccer. It was better than my expectations, because I learned a lot. They have a very unique way of getting people to come together to find a common way to communicate to ultimately work out some of their problems, collaborate, and have much better opportunity to solve problems, so it was much different than I thought.
Q: Do you think that sport for social change can help Armenia?
A: I do. I didn’t really understand what it meant until I spent time with CAC. But, I think the common interest of sport is a very good way to bring people together.
Q: We introduced the ASK For Choice curriculum to Armenia. What do you think the biggest challenge is facing the women of the country?
A: The biggest challenge for the country is economic opportunity. Without more opportunity the country will continue to have people leave to find better jobs and better ways to support themselves. So that’s clearly the challenge, and so the investment in education and investment in girls is one of the principle ways to change that equation so I think it’s all tied together.