Syusanna, 13, can be very convincing. “When I learned about soccer, I thought, ‘I have to try this!’ But my daddy was against it. So, I had to sit and talk to him. I said, ‘Look, Dad, I have to try everything to figure out what is really my thing.’ He agreed. Now, I play soccer.”

Syusanna lives in the city of Dilijan in Armenia’s Tavush Province. About a year ago, Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer (GOALS) started a girls’ soccer league in Dilijan. For a provincial city like Dilijan, it is a real challenge for girls to do something like soccer, which is considered too “boyish.” Still, Suzanna joined the league in September 2017.

Soccer changed Syusanna’s life and mindset, she said. She has become more thorough, not only in soccer but in other issues as well. “Just like in soccer, where you have to be fast and very attentive, I now deal with my problems and issues. I learned how to make quick decisions,” she said.

Still, Syusanna and her friends in the league have to fight their battles every day. “When we started to play football with the boys from our yard, they were like ‘What? Girls?’ When we won the game, they perceived us as real winners,” said Syusanna, who added that breaking stereotypes began right at home, in her yard.

Very soon, girls in Armenia’s Kotayk Province will also be able to join Syusanna as well thanks to Ayo!’s GameChanger Project, which is fully funded and currently being implemented. The cooperation of Ayo! and GOALS for this particular project aims to establish safe spaces to play soccer as a way to empower young girls from underprivileged villages to become leaders, speak their minds, and challenge social norms. GOALS plans to launch a female soccer league in the Kotayk Province during 2018.