By Rob McBride
MANILA, Philippines, 2 December 2011 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham spoke about the importance of caring and supportive families during a visit with children who had formerly lived on the streets in the Philippines.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on the visit of UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham to the Philippines. Watch in RealPlayer|
“I was lucky. Throughout my life I have had the support of my mum and my dad,” said the soccer star, after being shown around the ‘Village for Youth’, a Government-run centre for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned.
Mr. Beckham took time out from an Asian soccer tour for this visit, to the delight of the 130 boys and girls who are being cared for here. But he wasn’t taking a break from soccer.
“He’s an inspiration”
Taking part in a warm up with the children, and then a seven-a-side match, the children found themselves playing with one of the world’s footballing greats. The experience was particularly memorable for Conan, 17, whose ambition is to play for the Philippines national squad.
“One day I would like to play international football, just like him,” he said after the match. “He is an inspiration for me.”
Soccer has helped give Conan’s life focus and meaning after an early childhood spent living on the streets of Manila. Arrested at the age of seven, he was taken into care when his parents failed to claim him.
|© UNICEF Philippines/2011/ Villafranca|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham plays seven-a-side with former street children in Manila, Philippines. The sporting legend took time out from a sports tour in Asia to highlight the plight of children suffering from neglect or abuse.|
In March, 2010, his passion took him all the way to the Street Children’s Football World Cup in South Africa, which helped draw international attention to the global problem. Globally, it is estimated 100 million children are living and working on the streets, where they are exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation.
UNICEF provides support
“They’re simply not able to enjoy their childhood,” said Sarah Norton-Staal, UNICEF Philippines Child Protection Chief, who accompanied Mr. Beckham for part of the tour. “Children who are living and working on the streets are not able to realize their full rights.”
UNICEF is working to help children in Philippines and around the world to leave the streets and get back into caring, supportive environments, either with relatives or, if necessary, in temporary centres. But as Centre Manager Siony Flores explained, the real focus was helping children integrate back into their communities where “a caring, home environment can take them forward in their lives."
“I have four children myself, and they depend on me and my wife,” said Mr. Beckham at the end of his tour. “So it’s so sad to see so many children that don’t have that support, that don’t have that love.”
|© UNICEF Philippines/2011/ Villafranca|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham with children from the ‘Village for Youth’ in Manila, Philippines. The UNICEF-supported centre provides comprehensive social services, including skills training. These children make their own hats and gowns in preparation for their graduation.|
To give these young people a second chance, the staff have found a number of ways – from music and art to sport – to help them re-connect.
“I connect the sports to their education and then also their character,” said Jess Landagan, the soccer coach. He lived on the streets as a child and has made it his mission to help others facing the same circumstances. Soccer is how he reaches children. “I can see the changes in their lives,” he said.
“There are so many great people who are doing so much great work here, and it’s a huge responsibility to have children that have come in, that have lost their parents, or been abandoned by their parents and are living on the streets,” said Mr. Beckham.
One of his guides, Shaina, was a case in point. Abandoned by parents too young to take care of her, she lived with her grandmother. They scraped together a living by scavenging on the streets until her grandmother died.
Of Mr. Beckham, Shaina said, “He’s very nice to take time to come and see us, and I hope he has many more blessings.”