One thing was very clear to us as we worked on the ground within the refugee crisis, supporting grassroots groups and small nonprofits with their valuable work - displaced people need something to do.
For us, it was only natural to turn to football. Football has always been a huge part of my life, as a fan and a player, and I know first-hand how 90 minutes on the pitch can make a difference long after the final whistle is blown.
Working with displaced people, it doesn't take long to notice that the boredom and immobility that come with waiting for an asylum application make an already difficult situation even harder. Once busy people are left to their own devices in camps or accommodation centres, with hours and hours in every day, and very little to do to pass the time.
This is why we have chosen to use football as a tool to address health issues, both mental and physical, while promoting integration and community-building.
Through Aniko FC, we provide an outlet for people to come together, to get active, learn new skills and become part of a team. The benefits of connecting people through sport are multiple; it promotes bonding and social inclusion, teamwork, discipline, stress and trauma relief and trust-building.
We provide regular football training sessions and community event days in the Thessaloniki area of mainland Greece, for people of all ages, genders and abilities. In doing so we aim to develop a bridge with local communities, provide a level of psychosocial support for displaced people and reintroduce physical activity.
The first four months of our project in the latter part of 2017 saw us grow exponentially, developing partnerships with Terre des hommes and the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Looking to 2018, we aim to expand our operations in Greece and plan for international development.