If you want to know why Arsenal's Gap Year project is so rewarding, spend some time with Joe Stolerman and Henry Milton.
They recently got back from Kenya where they worked on the Club's voluntary scheme, gaining skills in football coaching while working with local schools overseas.
Joe and Henry made a film of their experience - click on the image above to watch it - and we caught up with them to find out more. Click here for information on the Club's 2011/12 Gap Year internship.
Hi Joe and Henry. How did you get involved?
Joe: Mainly out of pure luck. Personally I saw it in a matchday programme and I thought that if I ever had the time, it sounds like an amazing opportunity. I finally got the time, applied for it, came in for my interview and got lucky!
What were your objectives?
Henry: It was to try and get as many Kenyan kids playing football as possible. If not football, just getting them active and spreading the Arsenal name. Arsenal are absolutely huge out there already so it doesn’t need spreading that much. We went to schools, community projects and some slums teaching kids about football and getting them to play.
What was the welcome like?
Joe: Extraordinary. Everyone was so enthusiastic about getting to play football.
Henry: For so many of the kids, I don’t think many of them had interacted with ‘Mzungu’ [white people] as we are known. The fact that we were carrying a huge bag of leather footballs which none of them had played with before obviously helped. At times, you would start getting frustrated because it was so overwhelming but then you would realise ‘hang on, the reason they are so excited is because they haven’t experienced any of this before.’
Joe: If they had some of the facilities we have over here they would do so well because some of the kids have such a natural talent. Some of their enthusiasm transfers into ability.
Were you surprised by how good they were?
Henry: We know Kenya’s sporting forte is long-distance runners, that’s what they are famous for. We assumed that they would be fit and full of energy. Technically and tactically, some of them were so impressive. You could see two banks of four, you could see what positions they were playing. Your touch has to be so good on a pitch like that to do a one-two.
Joe: They were really playing the ‘Arsenal way’. Even the girls’ teams, it was really impressive.
Henry: What’s good is that every year we have been going to different schools. There is an even greater amount of kids that are inspired by the ‘Arsenal way’.
What ages were the kids?
Joe: All the way from four all the way up to 16 or 17 and we even did an adult session too.
If you watch the video you can tell they love a goal celebration...
Henry: It is so refreshing to see it. I can remember scoring in the playground but they are not just happy, they celebrate in style with somersaults. The dancing is amazing and you cannot help but laugh and you feel so happy.
Joe: It doesn’t matter what the goal is like – an overhead kick from 25 yards or if it’s hit you and gone in – it doesn’t matter.
What is Arsenal's reputation in Kenya?
Henry: In Kenya, Arsenal has an unbelievable fan base. Especially those over the age of about 25. I’d say 70 per cent are Arsenal fans, diehard Arsenal fans. They see us in our tracksuits and would start questioning us on transfers. If only we knew because we are just fans!
What if Arsenal's first-team squad went to Kenya?
Joe: You could see how enthusiastic they were with me and Henry turning up in Kenya, I think it would go pretty nutty if anyone from the Arsenal first team turned up.
Why did you put together a film of your experience?
Joe: I had my camera and I was taking a few photos and things. We started doing videos because of the dancing. There is no way you can convey this dancing without a video. We enjoyed watching it so much. To do a video of them dancing and show them the video, they were so thrilled. Pretty soon, we thought we could make a pretty good montage out of this.
What was the most inspiring moment?
Joe: Some of the people we met were just incredible. The way they devoted their lives to helping out their local community was inspiring. It’s an obvious one to pick but they completely give up their own lives to help others. One man who was 24, he was a street boy up until the age of 13 and had no formal education. He woke up one morning, went to beg and an English guy came up to him and said ‘if I take you to school, will you stay there?’. He said yes and the English guy took him to a school, paid for his education and then left him. For the next eight years he was in primary school, so he started at the age of 13 with five-year-olds and worked his way up. When he grew up, he went to Nairobi and became an affluent guy. He went back to Nakuru, where he lived as a street boy, and met another street boy who asked for his help.
Henry: He was in the same situation he had been in all those years ago. From then, he realised how lucky he had been and decided to set up an orphanage. Now that has grown and there is a school next to it where we have coached at, called Living Fountain Academy. All of this has grown out of one English guy’s actions. That inspired us and I think I am definitely going to go back to Kenya as a result of this experience. We have got so much more and it is so easy for us to do a huge amount of good out there. It really doesn’t take that much effort from us. People were saying, ‘you don’t realise how important this is going to be, they are never going to forget these days or you guys’. It is so inspirational, it’s incredible. It’s so difficult to explain.
What's next for you?
Henry: I have got a job in a school so hopefully I will go into teaching.
Joe: I am finishing my law qualifications and will start with a law firm in February.
Will you go back?
Joe: We are definitely planning to go back because with so little, you can make a huge difference. All it takes is your time. How much does your time cost? You take 15 footballs with you and you can make such a huge difference.