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A true meaning in life: success with football

© UNICEF Ukraine / 2012 / M.Koryshov
Alina in the premises of NGO “Way Home” supported by UNICEF

By Jenia Luchmann

Alina Zelutina, 19, believes that her long-lasting love for football brings not only satisfaction and joy to her life but also offers her a chance to interact with other young people. She says it gives true meaning to her life.
Alina’s life however began in difficult circumstances.

Alina and her twin sister’s father was killed when they were still small and their deaf mother did not really care much about them. The girls were neglected.

Her mother who originates from Moldova and currently lives in Odessa, Ukraine, says she doesn’t want to see her daughter and Alina claims she doesn’t want to see her mother either - the memory of neglect and lack of care from her mother’s side is too painful. Alina occasionally meets her only aunt who didn’t forget about her and her sister during the hard times of their childhood.

When Alina and her sister were born they lived in a hostel for deaf people along with their mother. However, Alina’s mother lost custody over her two daughters many years ago and when the girls turned five they were sent to a children’s home where they lived until they started to go to a boarding school for disabled children. She says they were sent there because of their hearing problems.

© UNICEF / 2012 / D.Xanthópoulus
Children are preparing to the UNICEF Football Cup

Alina is now helped by a UNICEF supported NGO called “Way Home” in Odessa, but her journey there was long and difficult.

As part a social outreach programme, Way Home organise summer camps every year, and Alina and her twin sister Oksana spent their summer vacations there while at boarding school. But, when the girls left the institution they had no idea what to do and where to go. Luckily they were invited to Way Home by a social worker and as Alina explains, she was happy to move there. Along with her sister, she quickly grew accustomed to her new life.
In the centre which Alina now calls home she has many friends who share her interests such as football and dancing. She currently studies at Odessa Marine Transport College and her twin sister Oksana at Odessa Pedagogical University. She is looking forward to starting a life on her own but as Alina admits she is ready for it physically, but not psychologically.

Over and over Alina emphasizes the importance of football in her life. She started playing football during her stay in the institution and later found an opportunity to continue her passion for the game. Her level of professionalism as a football player increased during competitions conducted among teams of vulnerable children from different regions in Ukraine with the support of UNICEF, and social workers have praised her sporting talent.
Now Alina plays football every day at the playground near Way Home, as she is now 19, she has several years of football experience. She has attended several football competitions and has played in Kyiv, Odessa and Donetsk together with 20 other children in her team.

Alina’s favourite international football team is Real Madrid, but at home in Ukraine, her heart beats for Dynamo Kyiv.  Alina admits that she is not really sure whether to choose her Marine profession over being a professional football player in her future life but says she wants to travel a lot in order to discover the world. Then again, she wants to continue to play football on a professional level. Somebody suggested applying to a Sports University and she says she will think about this as an option. One thing is clear: Alina’s dedication to football has become the most important part of her life and she is going to continue playing, even if her favourite sport remains her favourite pastime.

Between 2009 and 2011 UNICEF, together with its partner organizations, has supported programmes for the most socially vulnerable children in the cities of Dnipropetrovsk, Odessa, Donetsk, Kyiv and Mykolaiv. These prevention projects have proven their effectiveness and UNICEF continues to work with its national partners in Ukraine to strengthen social services, families and communities, and to provide a better protective environment for children. The projects help the children to gain life-skills while receiving social support. Together this helps to prevent them from ending up on the streets.



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