YEREVAN, Armenia – The American University of Armenia (AUA) is proud to share the success story of GOALS (Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer), the only sports development NGO in Armenia at which all seven volunteers and interns are from AUA. GOALS was established in 2015 by Peace Corps volunteers and aims to empower youth, particularly young girls, to become leaders through the creation of safe spaces to play soccer, speak their mind, and challenge social norms.
In an effort to provide girls with equal opportunities, GOALS designs and implements a number of projects to involve a growing number of girls from different parts of Armenia. Their target group is girls between the ages of 12 to 17, as this is a very formative and active period in life for learning and getting involved in extracurricular activities.
“We create and promote soccer leagues for girls, but our mission is not limited to sports and promoting a healthy lifestyle. We want to change stereotypes and break barriers that girls, especially in the regions, face. Many of them do not have the opportunity to actively participate in sports, act as leaders or speak their mind,” said Lorik Hartounian, the CEO of GOALS.
Hartounian is an AUA alumna (MA TEFL ‘16) whose thesis project focused on teaching English through gender and women’s studies, which involved doing a great deal of research on feminism, women’s rights and gender equality, something which led her to become actively involved in gender issues in Armenia. Recognizing the need in Armenia to go deeper into these issues, she joined the GOALS team.
In each region of Armenia, GOALS typically has five to nine girls soccer teams, but the project is constantly expanding and new teams are being added each season. The leagues in each region compete with each other once a week, after which the winning team moves forward to compete in national tournaments.
Zinaida Meloyan is the programming coordinator at GOALS and mainly works with the leagues. “In 2017, GOALS impacted more than 2,300 people directly, including people who participated in GOALS events, like leagues, trainings, after school clubs and summer camps, and more than 6,000 people indirectly, including the girls’ family members, coaches and everyone else involved,” she said.
According to Hartounian, one of the main achievements of GOALS has been establishing a change in people’s mindsets, citing many examples of girls whose family members were at first against their daughter’s involvement in soccer, but later changed their mind after seeing the success of the teams within their communities.
Alvard Mamikonyan is an intern at GOALS and provides assistance in league games and closing ceremonies held in different marzes of Armenia. “When you see these girls and the potential they have, you see future leaders,” she said.
In addition to tournaments, GOALS periodically organizes sports for social impact games, which bring boys and girls together to discuss issues they face in their families and communities. Tatevik Vardanyan, another GOALS intern, stated, “I do everything with great pleasure, as the girls are involved not only in soccer but also in debates and discussions that focus on crucial issues that are really important for girls at that age.”
Another intern, Anush Shirvanyan, joined the GOALS team recently. “Since I am very passionate about sports and equal rights, seeing these both happening in one organization makes me feel motivated and confident, because I see how sports, as well as the debates and discussions, helps girls, especially in regions and villages, express themselves.”
Each year, GOALS establishes firm connections and collaborations with a number of local and international organizations that not only support their projects through generous donations but also contribute to expanding their broader outreach.
In 2017 alone, GOALS partnered with 25 different organizations and individuals, including the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), World Vision Armenia, Dilijan United World College, US Peace Corps, the German Embassy in Armenia, Armenian General Benevolent Union, American University of Armenia, coaches from around the world, and many others.
Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality, graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values.