|'Team UNICEF' children, recruited to be a part of 'Project Excel', pose for a picture with Goodwill Ambassador, Kanu Nwankwo and their trainers and caretakers.|
By Oluseyi Abdulmalik and Geoffrey Njoku
LAGOS, Nigeria, 6 August 2008 – In the township of Agege, hundreds of excited children gathered to meet Nigerian football star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Nwankwo Kanu. Nwankwo’s appearance marked the end of the first phase of ‘Project Excel’ – a joint venture of FIFA’s ‘Football for Hope’, Search and Groom Youth Development Centre and UNICEF.
The primary objective of the ‘Football for Hope’ movement is to strengthen sustainable social and human development programmes such as healthcare improvement, children's rights, education, peace promotion, anti-discrimination, social integration and the environment. The movement is meant to help the United Nations reach its Millennium Goals by 2015.
The Search and Groom Youth Development Centre is FIFA’s Football For Hope official football and development partner in Nigeria. The street football programme works with children from socio-economically disadvantaged communities, using football as a simple but effective tool for social change and community regeneration.
Using football to promote social change
Saheed looks younger than his 17 years. He was on the streets of Lagos for over a year before being rescued by UNICEF through the Child to Child network. He is now benefiting from the Football for Hope movement.
“What this means to us is that maybe we can have a shot at a normal life,” says Saheed.
For the past three months, Saheed, along with other boys, were put up in camps and received training in football, clothes and regular meals. They also received counselling to help them develop their self esteem and build confidence in themselves.
The boys were also taught English and mathematics, and have participated in various cultural activities and games. It is the most stable home environment most of them have experienced in a long time.
Encouraging children’s hopes and dreams
Nwankwo Kanu started out just like the children he met through the programme.
“I was one of these kids, playing street soccer and dreaming of a better life” he says. “We all have to come together, as communities. As individuals, we must do what we can to support these children and ensure a better life for them”.
Just before he kicked-off the games, Nwankwo Kanu told the children to work hard and be committed to their dreams, as it can pay off for them just as it did for him. Judging from the excitement of the children in attendance, it is a lesson they will not soon forget.