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We stand with Ukraine: „Coach the Coaches“

On March 1st the FIM-Family would have travelled to Lviv in western Ukraine together with coaches from FC Zurich, Fundação Benfica (SL Benfica) and the FOOTBALL IS MORE foundation for the “Coach the Coaches” project at the children and youth home “Pokrova”. The project’s goal is to train local educators to coach youth with and without disabilities on and off the football field.

Now there is a war. Instead of playing football, the children were brought to safety at an affiliated youth home in Slovakia.

At “Pokrova” Helmut, the German cook, remains to hold the fort. He has been living in Lviv for 8 years. Before that, he was in eastern Ukraine; however, the situation was too dangerous due to the war in Donbass. For this reason, he left and moved to the West after only a few days. When asked why he stays in Lviv during this terrifying situation instead of going back to Germany, Helmut simply replies: “I stay here to help.”

Since he retired in 2010, Helmut has been volunteering for the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation in developing countries. After assignments in Moldova, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, throughout Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and Jamaica, he went to Ukraine in 2014. At “Pokrova” Helmut not only cooks for the kids but he also trains young people to become cooks. In addition to the children who live here, because they are (partial) orphans or because their parents are unable to care for them, 65 young adults stay at “Pokrova”. Don Bosco Mondo, a non-profit organization committed to supporting disadvantaged youth worldwide, provides them the opportunity to obtain an education and vocational training as car mechanics, carpenters, hairdressers, IT specialists as well as cooks.

Escaping the war

Since the outbreak of the war, sirens have been continuously sounding. For safety reasons, all inhabitants of the youth home were forced to move into the basement. In the meantime, the voices of children have disappeared. The insecure situation and the constant threat of an attack on Lviv, led those responsible for the youth home to immediately look for a safe haven for the children. During the first weekend of the war, a bus brought them all to Slovakia. They are now living amongst affiliated youth homes and various families where they are well cared for. However, the rooms and halls of “Pokrova” did not remain empty for long. Displaced people from other parts of the country are now being housed in the Don Bosco buildings. The provisions are still sufficient, thanks to Helmut. “We have a lot of frozen food” he begins to explain before cutting the conversation short as the sirens blare and he must retreat to safety in the basement.

Ulyana also remains in Lviv. Before the war, she took care of various projects at the youth home. One of them was the educational program “Coach the Coaches” organized by FOOTBALL IS MORE. Together with their partner organizations, FC Zurich and Fundação Benfica as well as experts from universities, the foundation will provide on-site training in various social and sport related topics. There are more than 50 instructors and over 1000 children participating in this project. Ulyana hopes that she can go back to the youth home soon to welcome back the children at “Pokrova”.

There is also immense distress and incomprehension for this war among the partners and organizers. Nuno Costa from Fundação Benfica, which is participating with two coaches in Lviv, says: “We were ready – our coaches were looking forward to the start of this project. For us, however, the project is not cancelled but only postponed. As soon as it is possible, we will go to Ukraine.” In the meantime – instead of going to Ukraine with their coaches – Fundação Benfica is now sending 6 trucks full of goods to Ukraine.

For the last 13 years, Fundação Benfica, the non-profit organization of SL Benfica football club, has been committed to using the power of football to make a positive impact in the world. Even during these difficult days, you can see the enormous solidarity at SL Benfica. When Lviv-born Ukrainian player Roman Yaremchuck was handed over the blue and yellow captain's armband during the match against Vitoria SC, 39’846 spectators showed him their solidarity with a moving standing ovation.

Besides the large stage of football, projects like the one at the “Pokrova” youth home are extremely important. By training coaches on site as well as in kind assistance, a framework is built up that makes it possible to train, support and integrate children and youth into the community in the future.

What is particularly important about this project is that coaches are trained to work with children and youth with disabilities and integrate them into a normal daily routine through sports. Opportunities for children and youth with disabilities to participate in sports are almost non-existent in the Lviv region, and this is likely also true for the rest of Ukraine. There is not only a lack of financial resources, but also an absence of appropriately trained coaches.

Despite the war, FOOTBALL IS MORE’s vison – creating a livable, inclusive world where all people can live in self-determination and dignity – is more relevant than ever.

Hanspeter Rothmund, Managing Director of the Foundation, explains: "With this project, we want to make a contribution to a society in which all people are given the opportunity to fully utilize their resources, develop their individual talents and shape their lives according to their own ideas."

The children and youth are encouraged in their physical, mental, and spiritual development and enabled to develop self-confidence. Through sports, they acquire values such as fairness and respect and learning to assume responsibility. They can build self-confidence and should learn to act independently and responsibly. Positive values such as friendship, independence, mutual assistance, and tolerance are taught – values that deeply underlie sports and football.

Rothmund continues: "At the moment the focus in Ukraine is on peace efforts, the protection of people and good and humanitarian crisis management. We as the FIM Family will do everything in our power to support our friends and partners in Ukraine. We are committed to continuing our project in Lviv: for inclusion AND peace!"


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