SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, 19 April 2011 - He is considered the best footballer of his generation. Lionel ‘Leo’ Messi, the Argentine player and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, inspires millions around the world.
|VIDEO: 28 March 2011 - UNICEF Goodwill Ambassor Lionel 'Leo' Messi meets with children from disadvantaged communities in Costa Rica. Watch in RealPlayer|
For five young boys and two girls in Costa Rica, meeting the footballing great, who plays for FC Barcelona, was an unforgettable moment at the end of March. “It’s a dream come true,” said Kevin, 8, who first wanted to learn to read in order to keep up with football news. Thrilled to meet their hero, the children – all aged between 8 to 12 years old – could barely contain their excitement.
Dream come true
"I swear I will never take a shower again!" said José Ronaldo, 11, as he proudly showed off the footballer’s signature on his forearm. The children spoke with Mr. Messi during a private meeting organized by UNICEF. Alexander Cubillio, 12, from the Bribri indigenous community greeted Messi in his native language.
All the children come from socially vulnerable communities in Costa Rica. Most of them play football regularly at school or as part of special sports projects near to where they live. Mr. Messi emphasized the importance of protecting children across the country. “Both boys and girls have the right to live without violence. Give them the opportunity,” he said.
|© UNICEF Costa Rica/2011/Fernández|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lionel ‘Leo’ Messi meets children from vulnerable communities in Costa Rica.|
In Costa Rica, UNICEF supports the ‘We All Make up the School’ (‘La Escuela Somos Todos’) education programme in 10 primary schools and five secondary schools in the province of Limón. It promotes a quality education that also encourages children’s participation in sports.
UNICEF has also taken the lead in strengthening ‘Local Protection Systems’, an initiative that supports joint efforts by the Government of Costa Rica, the municipality and civil society organizations in favour of the rights of children and adolescents.
Advocating for rights
"It is a mandate of the United Nations to work with issues related to sports and recreation as they are rights that promote the peaceful coexistence and the full development of children,” said UNICEF Representative in Costa Rica Seija Toro. “Since UNICEF has an ambassador like Messi, this is an excellent opportunity to insist on the importance of the right of children and adolescents to live in peace and play sports.”
|© UNICEF Costa Rica/2011/Fernández.|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lionel ‘Leo’ Messi said that children in Costa Rica should grow up in an environment free of violence and where they are encouraged to play sport.|
Messi became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in March 2010 and has shown a deep commitment to the organization's mission. The footballing icon has been on several trips around the world since then, advocating for the rights of the most disadvantaged children, including in earthquake-affected Haiti and China.
For decades, Goodwill Ambassadors have helped improve the lives of children and women around the world by creating public awareness of youth issues and helping to mobilize resources for UNICEF.