How our joint project with Freedom from Torture helped Alex Mengi develop confidence as well as language and social skills.
“I came to the UK from the Democratic Republic of Congo 19 years ago, but it wasn’t until 2012 that my solicitor put me in touch with Freedom from Torture. They supported me a lot and still support me to this day. It wasn’t easy coming to a new country all those years ago, but it does get easier in time, especially with the right people around you.
“I got involved in the Arsenal football sessions through Freedom from Torture. I was having English lessons and my key worker told me about them. I love football but I hadn’t been able to play since suffering a stroke, so I asked for more information. I wasn’t sure if I’d be allowed to go because it’s a physical game and my impediment could cost me – I was struggling to walk, let alone run, because one side of my body is weaker than the other – but they welcomed me and said, ‘Come and join us.’
“I started going to the gym and one of the staff supported me, working as a personal trainer to help get me fit again. I’d really missed football so it felt as if I had a new lease of life. It wasn’t easy at first but I just wanted to play. I started to adapt and then I started to improve.
“The sessions take place every Monday at The Hub and I’ve been going for two years now. We train, learn tricks from the coaches and play matches. I’ve played against teams from Hull and Norwich, and at tournaments. We played one tournament at Market Road where I accidentally scored a goal with my hand, and it was the only goal of the game. I was like Maradona. Don’t tell anyone!
“Football opens my mind and the group has helped me to feel free. I’ve made so many friends since I’ve been involved with the group that when I’m at the sessions it’s like having a second family. In fact I live alone so when we’re here we really are family. That’s helped my life go from being stressful to stress free, and my hope for the future is just for my life to get back to normal, to where it was before I had the stroke. That’s another reason why I love to play with people who are fit. Football helps you physically and mentally.
“I knew of Arsenal before I came to England – Arsenal are a big club – but I didn’t know about the work they do with Freedom from Torture or so many other charities here at home and abroad. Many people in my position don’t know where to go but Arsenal can help, and there are many generous people who are willing to help you. I’m grateful – really grateful – for everything.”
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