'Seeing it helping those kids was incredible' - Williamson's pride as Arsenal launch Jakarta coaching scheme

The Gunners defender travelled to Jakarta to launch the club's new project Coaching for Life, which has been created together with Save the Children

It wasn’t until she was sat on the plane heading back to London that it begun to dawn on Leah Williamson what she had just experienced during her three-day stay in Jakarta.

Arsenal’s 22-year-old defender had been in Indonesia to help launch the club’s pioneering new project, Coaching for Life, a programme run alongside Save the Children aimed at protecting youngsters in some of the world’s toughest places by building their courage through football.

It had been a trip into the unknown for Williamson, but it was one that left her in awe of the young people she had met and proud of the club that she was there to represent.

“I’m quite an emotional person, I can’t hide it very well,” Williamson told Goal. “But when I was there I felt like I had to be very hard faced and strong.

“On the plane it definitely hit home a little bit, that’s when I really started to think about what I’d just been through.

“To see it and experience it is bad enough, but then having to leave those girls there in those circumstances is tough. You wish you could do more. That’s why the programme really is a Godsend because you know that environment is still going to be there for them.”

Arsenal Jakarta

The launch of Arsenal’s new project in Jakarta follows on from the programme they opened last year in Zaatari, one of the largest refugee camps in the world that sits an hour’s drive away from Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Just as they did in Zaatari, the north London club have built a football pitch in one of the world’s most underprivileged areas with the aim of giving children a place to play, to learn and to develop.

It’s an oasis of green amid the dusty and humid Jakarta streets, a facility that is already making a difference to the lives of many youngsters who use it on a daily basis.

“Seeing it helping those kids so much was incredible,” said Williamson. “The reason I love it and I said this when I was there, was I couldn’t believe how much Arsenal were involved.

“It’s not like we were dumping a bag of money off and then coming back and visiting to see what’s been done, it’s literally Arsenal in Indonesia, which is pretty special.

“That’s the best thing about it. Not just for the kids but for the coaches that we teach, who then go on to deliver the programme.

Leah Williamson Arsenal

“Sometimes I take it for granted how good this club is, how classy and world-leading we are in terms of what we do. It’s not just a football club and seeing first-hand how far and wide we reach and the impact we can have, was very special.”

While on the ground in Jakarta, Williamson joined in with two coaching sessions which were being held on the pitch which had been purpose built by Arsenal.

“To have an hour each day having such a great time with the girls, without speaking the same language, was a highlight for me,” she said.

It was during these sessions that Williamson first met Diah, a 14-year-old whose story left a lasting impression on the Arsenal and England star.

Having struck up a connection on the football pitch, Williamson then visited the teenager’s house to find out more about her way of life.

She learnt that Diah’s father left while she was still very young and now she has to provide for her family, selling snacks from a kiosk she has opened outside her house each night.

“She wakes up in the morning early to get the snacks to sell on her stall after school,” said Williamson. “She works to support her family, but also finds time to go and play football because she knows how good it is.

Leah Williamson Arsenal

“On top of that she’s appealing for children’s rights and is trying to raise awareness about child labour to the deputy minister of the area.

“I just sat there listening to her thinking, 'how is this child capable of being so amazing?' Then after I left someone told me she actually baby sits in the evening as well to earn money.

“She’s 14 and has the weight of the world on her shoulders trying to support her family.”

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Williamson added: “I met her the first day, she came to play on the pitch. That’s when I saw what she should be all the time, just being a kid having fun. When I spoke to her in her house I saw the vulnerable side of her that makes me so glad that Save the Children and the Arsenal Foundation are supporting her, because she does need it.

“You see on the pitch what the project is bringing out of her. It’s letting her just be a kid again. It’s an escape from her life back at home.

“She loves her family and she’s aware of how hard her circumstances are. She’s tired all the time, but the fact that she still turns up at the project every week and that she loves it so much, shows how much she is benefitting from it as well.”