‘Once in a lifetime’ – Cityzens Young Leaders reflect on Youth Leadership experience trip to UAE

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  • Selected for their commitment as leaders to their local communities, the Young Leaders enjoyed a memorable Youth Leadership experience as they work to inspire the next generation through the beautiful game
  • Following their four-day Youth Leadership experience with Etihad Airways, Michel, Mindy and Zahrah reflected on “eye-opening” trip in the UAE

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: This year’s Cityzens Giving Youth Leadership experience, in partnership with Etihad Airways, saw six of the initiative’s inspiring Young Leaders head to the United Arab Emirates for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, with the Young Leaders engaging with the local communities in the UAE in an enriching, leadership experience. 

The Young Leaders, each selected for their dedication and commitment as leaders in their respective communities through the game of football, travelled to Abu Dhabi for a unique Youth Leadership Experience, in which they received specialised leadership training at Etihad HQ and a personal tour across Emirates Palace and EXPO 2020 Dubai in a whirlwind experience. 

Following their visit to the UAE, Zahrah from Manchester, Mindy from Kuala Lumpur and Michel from Mexico City reflected on their incredible journey, in what was truly an international celebration of community football. 

Zahrah, one of the Young Leaders within the club’s City in the Community (CITC) charity said: “I think everything is just breath-taking. We were fortunate to go to Emirates Palace, EXPO 2020 Dubai and Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque on this trip and meet some incredible people. For instance, the way we’ve been treated everywhere you go, everyone is very respectful and they are really interested to learn about different cultures.” 

“Everything you see blends together so well and everyone comes together as one. Even the Young Leaders here this week, we all come from different backgrounds but importantly we are all speaking about the same goals, and the fact that we can take this experience back to our communities in amazing.”

Mindy, a key leader with Cityzens Giving’s charity partner, Dignity for Children, in Kuala Lumpur added: “This is my first trip overseas, so that was an incredible experience to have, and I got to go stargazing which has always been on my bucket list! Getting to see EXPO 2020 Dubai was eye-opening too, just to see and experience so many different cultures and countries in one place. 

“I learned so much from this trip, not only through physical skills but also the soft skills such as communication, teamwork and making decisions. In our community project, we use football as a means to connect with people. Everyone has the right to play in a safe space, and so football can really transform someone’s life.” 

The Cityzens Giving initiative from City Football Group features a global project network, with more than 1,000 young leaders taking local football sessions in their communities. Currently active in more than 25 cities across the world, this year’s challenge under the Cityzens Giving Young Leaders programme saw a three-judge panel select the Young Leaders to attend the trip following their remarkable leadership skills in giving back to their local communities. 

Michel, who leads the Cityzens Giving project in Mexico City with the club’s local charity partner, love.fútbol, expressed how the Young Leaders’ passion for football goes beyond the beautiful game. She added: “Football has been the key thing in my life since I was little, my whole family are football fanatics. Being involved in the game and a part of Cityzens Giving has taught me how much football can changes people’s lives, especially from a young age. Seeing kids just playing with the ball or scoring a goal and being happy is what fills me with joy.”

“It’s an incredible way to connect too, as when I had attended the Young Leaders summit previously, it was the first time I had ever left home. I actually feared having to deliver sessions to the kids as I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing, but the coaches are all so supportive and all your doubts leave you. I realised that football isn’t something that really changes at all, despite everyone speaking different languages. The leadership and empathy that the City coaches have shown us is what we’ll take back to our communities and this has been an unforgettable experience.”

During their visit to Abu Dhabi, the Young Leaders also delivered City Football Schools sessions to local youth in the community, bringing their acquired knowledge from their journeys and cultural experiences across the UAE to the pitch. 

It was a memorable moment for the Young Leaders alongside with local stars of the City Football Schools, with young Mohammad, 8, thrilled to meet their new football coaches from across the world. He said: “It was so cool to have Michel, Mindy and Zahrah take our training sessions today. We got to learn so much about how they coach in their communities and learn about their cultures. Hopefully we can go and train with the players in their home cities one day too!”

With lots of insightful, life lessons gained from their trip, Michel, Mindy and Zahrah shared they can’t forget how they successfully navigated the language barriers amidst a week full of learning.

Mindy said: “When we visited CFS, I loved the level of high energy amongst the coaches and players. There was such a positive vibe out on the pitch, and it’s amazing how football was able to help us to connect to each other. I’ll definitely take those memories back into my sessions back home.”

Michel added: “The way the coaches run the sessions here has had a big impact on me; everything is so well structured and the sessions are well prepped so you can put everything into a really good session. Having good control of your session is the key to carrying out a great coaching session. Even with the language barrier, we found ways to communicate – whether it was through signals and even laughing with each other, we found ways to communicate and achieve the aim of our session.”

Zahrah remarked that the “on and off pitch” leadership was an important factor that she took away from the trip. She said: “We were fortunate enough to visit the City Football Schools for some great sessions, and later Etihad HQ for an amazing leadership workshop. We got to see how we can be leaders, through the things that we can do for the future generations but also what football can do to actually inspire. 

“It’s not only on the pitches, as there’s all the social aspects of playing and the mental health side of the game. Football can bring great awareness for communication and overall life skills, and that’s definitely something for us as Young Leaders to take into our work to inspire the next generation.”

About Manchester City Football Club 

Manchester City FC is an English Premier League club initially founded in 1880 as St Mark’s West Gorton. It officially became Manchester City FC in 1894 and has since then gone onto win the European Cup Winners’ Cup, seven League Championship titles, including five Premier League titles (2012, 2014, 2018, 2019, 2021), and six FA Cups. Manchester City FC is one of 11 clubs comprising the City Football Group and counts New York City FC and Melbourne City FC among its sister clubs.

Under manager Pep Guardiola, one of the most highly decorated managers in world football, the Club plays its domestic and UEFA Champions League home fixtures at the Etihad Stadium, a spectacular 55,000 seat arena that City have called home since 2003. Today, the Stadium sits on the wider Etihad Campus, which also encompasses the City Football Academy, a state-of-the-art performance training and youth development facility located in the heart of East Manchester. Featuring a 7,000 capacity Academy Stadium, the City Football Academy is also where Manchester City Women’s Football Club and the Elite Development Squad train on a daily basis and play their competitive home games.

About Cityzens Giving

Cityzens Giving is an award-winning programme, supporting youth-led community football projects across the globe together with our fans, staff and partners.  

Projects are run by young people for people with support and administrative oversight from vetted registered charity partners across the globe. In addition to long-term grant funding, Young Leaders access training in community football and leadership from our Club community coaches and networking opportunities with other projects worldwide. This includes face-to-face training in country (when conditions permit), remote support, and regular global forums and summits to support the exchange of know-how and learning.  Since the launch of Cityzens Giving in 2014, over 2,000 Young Leaders have been trained with over 25,000 young people across 25 cities now participating in the projects, which use football to tackle a range of pressing social issues from health and wellbeing and educational attainment to social inclusion and employability to name a few.

About City Football Schools 

Built on the philosophy and training programmes of the Manchester City Academy, City Football Schools Abu Dhabi and Dubai offer boys and girls, from 3 to 18 years old, an opportunity to improve their football skills, stay healthy, make friends and have lots of fun in a positive and friendly learning environment. 

More than 1,000 children from across the UAE train at City Football Schools each week, with sessions led by fully qualified City Football School coaches.  City Football Schools are based across various venues in the UAE, including Emirates Palace, Zayed Sports City and New York University Abu Dhabi and Officers Club Abu Dhabi, and at Brighton College Dubai. 

About Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, was formed in 2003 and quickly went on to become one of the world’s leading airlines. From its home in Abu Dhabi, Etihad flies to passenger and cargo destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and North America. Together with Etihad’s codeshare partners, Etihad’s network offers access to hundreds of international destinations. In recent years, Etihad has received numerous awards for its superior service and products, cargo offering, loyalty programme and more. Etihad is recognised as one of the world’s leading airlines in response to COVID-19 and was the first airline in the world to fully vaccinate its crew on board.

Etihad sees tackling the climate crisis as the most important issue of our time, and through strategic partnerships with major global aviation brands and OEMs, Etihad is relentless in its pursuit of industry decarbonisation. 

About City in the Community

Established in 1986, City in the Community (CITC) has been using football to create opportunities, build futures, and touch lives in a unique way ever since. Using football as a magnet to engage people aged from two to 90, Manchester City’s official charity delivers a range of award-winning programmes, focusing on three main areas: Health, Education, and Inclusion. CITC programmes currently engage with up to 20,000 local people each season.

About love.fútbol

love.fútbol is an award-winning non-profit dedicated to a safe place to play sports for every child. The organization engages, mobilizes and partners with communities to plan, build, manage and redefine their own sports spaces as hubs for passion, education and development. 

Since 2006, love.fútbol has partnered with some of the biggest names in the sport, business and non-profit sectors to create safe sports spaces across five continents for nearly 70,000 children, youth and adults to be active, connect, grow and learn. Learn more at www.lovefutbol.org 

About Dignity for Children Foundation 

Dignity has been providing quality education and holistic care to underprivileged children for the past 24 years. From a classroom of just 20 students in 1998, Dignity is currently educating 1,866 students this year. Dignity is the largest, most comprehensive learning centre for the underprivileged in Malaysia and is widely recognised for its many holistic programs, including Faisal Cup that focuses on bringing equal opportunity for the children to play football in a safe space.

The foundation received the United Nations Malaysia Award 2019 for its effort in working to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goal of “Leave No One Behind” as well as the Sharjah International Award for Refugee Advocacy and Support in 2018. Dignity also hosted the 44th President of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama, in 2015. For more information on Dignity, please visit https://dignityforchildren.org/