George Weah accepts honour on behalf of children in war
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, 14 July 2004 – The global sports network ESPN today honoured UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador George Weah with the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award for his fearless work on behalf of children caught up in wars worldwide.
Actor Denzel Washington presented the award before a star-studded audience at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood during the ESPY awards, to be broadcast Sunday 18 July on ESPN.
Mr. Weah dedicated the award to the world’s children, especially those in war-affected countries like his own, Liberia. The award caps a decade of volunteer work for children’s rights that has seen the soccer star use his fame to draw attention to the most vulnerable children in the most remote locales.
“George has travelled to some of the world’s most dangerous places to stand up for children who might otherwise be forgotten,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “We are very proud that George is a member of the UNICEF family, and we congratulate him on receiving the Arthur Ashe award. George is a tremendously talented athlete, but it is in his work with child soldiers that he elevated himself to a truly different level. He earned this honour with a compassion and courage that transcends sports.”
Weah has spoken out for children affected by conflict in many countries throughout West Africa. But Liberia – where he grew up learning to score goals with a soccer ball made of rags – has always been closest to his heart. He returned to his native country as soon as the war there ended in January of 2004 to help UNICEF in the difficult task of disarming and rehabilitating thousands of children who had been recruited as soldiers and forced to fight.
As of July, nearly 4,000 children have gone through the disarmament process and with the help of UNICEF and other partners a total of 2,267 children have been successfully reunited with their families.
UNICEF has plans in place to reunite 2,000 more children with their families in the coming weeks. Beyond that, there are currently 2,070 former child soldiers still going through the process of rehabilitation.
Each day new children are showing up to give up their guns and leave the fighting forces. The work is still ongoing and may take years.
Young Liberians Join George
In the audience at the ESPY award ceremony were Princess, 16, and Highson, 14, both of whom lived through the devastating Liberian war.
Princess was captured by the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) when the rebel group overran her village. She and her cousins, who were also kidnapped by LURD forces, were forced to carry loads and perform other tasks. Earlier this year, Princess was demobilized and is currently living at the UNICEF-supported care center in Monrovia.
Recruited by the Government of Liberia forces from one of Liberia’s slums, Highson first worked as a spy before going to the front lines to fight. After the war, Highson went through the Don Bosco Interim Care Center, has been reunited with his family, and has gone back to school. "If the war did not come, I would be in a big grade, not third grade," he said.
For both young people, George Weah is more than a great soccer player, he is a great man. “When I grow up, I want to be like George Weah to help other children," said Highson.
"There are still many good people in Liberia. George Weah is a good man. He is helping the children of Liberia," said Princess.
Weah became involved with UNICEF in 1993, at the height of his stardom as a football player. He was formally appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF in 1997.
For further information, please contact:
Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media,
212 326 7452