|© UNICEF /HQ97-0341/Toutounji|
International soccer star, George Manneh Weah, knows all about the needs of children in difficult circumstances. He grew up in Liberia’s impoverished capital, Monrovia, where he first learned to play soccer with home-made rag balls.
Weah became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador on 7 April 1997. “Today one of my dreams has come true – to become part of the UNICEF family,” he said.
Weah’s longstanding commitment to humanitarian activities, especially in Africa, has earned him the admiration of many. Nelson Mandela called him the ‘African Pride’.
UNICEF has benefited from Weah’s involvement since 1994, when he helped publicize immunization campaigns in Liberia. Since his appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador, Weah’s efforts on behalf of UNICEF have included vital support for HIV/AIDS education programmes and other projects in Ghana and Liberia. For instance, in June 1997 while in Liberia to coach the national team, he promoted vocational training schools where former child soldiers and other war-affected youth can learn new skills. He played in a football match between teams of former child soldiers. He also visited a health clinic, one of more than 50 primary healthcare facilities that have been revitalized by UNICEF.
|George Weah, accompanied by volunteers and soldiers, promote HIV/AIDS awareness at a football stadium in Monrovia. Liberia, 1997.|
In March 1998, in collaboration with the Italian Committee for UNICEF, Weah launched a CD called Lively Up Africa involving the singer Frisbie Omo Isibor and eight other African football stars. The proceeds went to children’s programmes in the countries of origin of the soccer players involved.
In recent years Weah has continued to lend invaluable support to UNICEF’s efforts, particularly in the Netherlands, the UK, Liberia and the USA.
An extraordinary career
George Weah has had an extraordinary international soccer career, most notably with the prestigious Italian club AC Milan, with whom he won the Golden Ball award (for the best European player) and the Italian National Championship. In the same year soccer’s international ruling body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), named him World Player of the Year in 1995, and in 1996 he won FIFA’s Fair Play Award. He went on to play for UK premiership sides Chelsea and Manchester City. He currently plays in the United Arab Emirates for the club Al-Jazira.
Weah is President of the Junior Professionals, a team he founded in Monrovia in 1994. As a way to encourage young people to remain in school, the club’s only requirement for membership is school attendance. Many of the young people, recruited from all over Liberia, have gone on to play for Liberia’s national team.