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Just another day in UNICEF Philippines

© UNICEF/2011/Villafranca
Manila, Philippines - UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham plays football with young people in a UNICEF supported centre for children who once lived and worked on the streets.

by Pam Pagunsan

 An up-close, personal encounter with football living legend and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham during his recent trip to the Philippines.


When news broke that the LA Galaxy football team would be coming  to the Philippines for a friendly match with our national football team, the Philippine Azkals, only one thought popped into the heads of the communication team: David Beckham.


As part of in the team in UNICEF Philippines, I am used to handling field visits and events for high profile supporters. I’ve accompanied our own local celebrity supporters on several visits to the provinces and I also got an opportunity to organize a visit for UNICEF UK Ambassador Charley Boorman in 2010.


Organizing field visits are a lot of work. Add a celebrity into the mix and it’s a whole new ballgame.  When Angela, our communications chief, asked if we could handle a potential visit from UNICEF Global Ambassador David Beckham, my immediate answer was “cool!” I prepared the proposal and sent it to his management to consider.   We knew how hectic his schedule was so we thought the chances were slim, but hoped  that the stars would turn in our favour.


It’s a go
We got the call from UNICEF UK on Monday night just three days before LA Galaxy’s arrival in the Philippines. What happened soon after was a blur of meetings, planning sheets, a flurry of phone calls, site inspections, briefings with staff and profiling of children. We were lucky enough to have the perfect site and group of children for a visit befitting a football legend.


Haven for children

The site we picked was a UNICEF-supported centre in Manila where David could meet children who used to live and work on the streets.


With 250,000 children living on the streets of the Philippines, and an estimated 100 million globally, we wanted David to gain a better knowledge and understanding of this important global issue. With UNICEF support, this centre helps vulnerable children leave the streets and get back into a caring, supportive environment either with their parents, other relatives or sometimes in temporary centres.

A mix of boys and girls, the centre temporarily houses more than a hundred children with ages ranging from seven to seventeen years old.  The government run “village for the youth” provides a comprehensive program to help young people get back a sense of structure and normalcy in their lives. What also made this location perfect was the staff at the centre, who were gentle, caring and dedicated to the task at hand,  and of course the children themselves.


The Arrival
The UNICEF team and everyone at the centre were up bright and early for the big day. Thankfully the weather was cooperative and the sun shone brightly enough to dry the centre’s football pitch from the previous day’s rain.


The plan was set and everyone was in place. As David stepped down from the van, the children’s band sprung into life and played a local folk song to welcome David to the centre. Children took him by the hand and ushered him to the first stop, a quick meeting with centre head Siony Flores. “Ms. Siony” explained to David how the centre worked to help vulnerable children get a second chance.


“Here we give the children guidance, care and opportunities to learn new skills. But the real focus is on helping children integrate back into their communities, with their families or relatives where a caring, home environment can take them forward in their lives,” shared Ms. Flores.


Children’s tour
After the overview, David was toured around the centre by the children themselves. They showed him their classrooms, dorm rooms, drawings from art class, haircutting and sewing sessions. As the tour progressed, a magical moment happened. The children asked David to try on the graduation gown they had sewn themselves and pose for a wacky picture. It was a perfect moment forever captured on film and I was lucky enough to be there and make it happen. 
 

Manila, Philippines - UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham tries on a graduation gown sewn by children in a UNICEF supported centre for children who once lived and worked on the streets. ©UNICEF/2011/Villafranca

After the tour, David and the children had a chance to sit down and talk about how football and living in the centre has changed their lives.

Manila, Philippines - UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham visits a UNICEF suppported centre for children who once lived and worked on the streets. ©UNICEF/2011/Villafranca

Clark was just nine when he entered the centre with his sister. Now 11, Clark shared what football has taught him, “In football we get pushed, fall down and get hurt while playing. The game has taught me to how forgive. . .when I grow up I want to be an architect and I will build a big school where children can learn.”

Planning to be a sailor someday, 15 year old Nelthon talked about what football has done for him, “I had asthma before but it went away when I started playing football. Football has been great for my health.”

Meeting David Beckham was a dream come true for the centre’s volunteer football coach Jess Landagan, himself a former streetchild who went on to play for the national team. “Football is my passion and it is my way of giving back. I connect the sports to their education and then also their character. I can see the changes in their lives.”

Let’s play
The culmination of the visit was a 20 minute football game with the centre players, where David wowed all of us with his famous football skills.

After the game, I had a chance to ask David is thoughts on the  visit, “The first moment I walked into the centre I got a really good, positive feeling. The children I’ve met here have gone through so much but through the guidance of the caring adults, children as young as nine or ten are learning responsibility and about respect. They talk about their hopes and dreams and their families. All the values they’re learning in the centre are really incredible,” David shared visibly touched by experience.

The interview was quite a surreal experience. All my years working for a broadcast network has served me quite well so that I knew what I had to do and how to compose myself when doing interviews with celebrities. However, a part of me was also saying “Oh my gosh, how cool is it that I’m interviewing David Beckham!” Unfortunately, I don’t have a better picture of this momentous occasion because the photographer forgot to put me in the shot!

David’s visit was truly a magical experience not just for the children and staff but for me and the rest of the UNICEF team involved. All the preparation, stress and late night jitters were worth it because at the end of the day, we were able to deliver on our main goal: to give the children and David genuine bonding moments they will remember, hopefully for the rest of their lives.   

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