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Sri Lankan cricket star brings a message of hope to children in Trinidad

© UNICEF/2007/ Norton
Sri Lankan cricket star Kumar Sangakkara surrounded by children at the start of his visit to the Cyril Ross Nursery just outside Port of Spain, Trinidad.

By Stuart Sutton-Jones

TUNAPUNA, Trinidad, 19 March 2007 – “Hi Uncle Kumar,” shouted the children of the Cyril Ross Nursery as they welcomed Sri Lankan cricket star Kumar Sangakkara to their home here, just outside Port of Spain, Trinidad.

The Sri Lankan wicket keeper had left practicing for matches in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 to visit the home of 38 children – 36 of whom are living with HIV – and to give encouragement to young people, who are often forgotten in the AIDS battle.

To the sound of tassa drumming, Mr. Sangakkara entered the nursery accompanied by his wife Yehali; Dr. Karen Sealey, Director of the UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team; and Karin Sham Poo, UNICEF Special Envoy to the Caribbean.

The manager of the home, Hyacinth Cross, told the visitors it seeks to prepare children for life outside by supporting their overall development. Cyril Ross now receives free medication and antiretroviral therapy, and the children are much healthier than before, she noted. Of the 38 residents, 37 now attend school.

“But children’s needs are different from those of adults and must be better highlighted,” said Ms. Cross.

Preparing for the future

Addressing the children, Ms. Sham Poo referred to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 alliance between the International Cricket Council, UNAIDS, UNICEF and the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS – an alliance that concentrates on young people.

“Cricket and cricketers are effective agents in fighting the stigma and discrimination that surround AIDS,” said Ms. Sham Poo, adding that children are the missing face of AIDS and have many lessons to teach others. “You are the future,” she added.

© UNICEF/2007/Villa
Young girl tying the ‘Band of Commitment’ onto cricketer Kumar Sangakkara’s wrist.

This theme was continued by Dr. Sealey, who told the children: “You are going to lead. There could be future prime ministers, policemen, cricketers, entertainers in this room. The UN system will work with the National AIDS Coordination Committee to make life even better for you.

“We need to turn you into ambassadors to tell others the story of HIV,” concluded Dr. Sealey.

‘Make guys like me obsolete’

Before speaking to the children, Mr. Sangakkara and two girls tied the ‘Band of Commitment’ onto each other’s wrists and promised to protect themselves and others against HIV and AIDS. He then made a passionate speech to the young people.

“People talk of the spirit of cricket, but there is more spirit in this room than in the World Cup,” said Mr. Sangakkara. “You are no different from anyone, and if you want to do something, you must go and take it. Your job is to make guys like me obsolete. I promise to do all that I can to make the world AIDS-free. Keep smiling.”

After his presentation, Mr. Sangakkara stayed an extra hour to take part in an informal cricket practice with the children, clearly happy to be spending time in the company of young people who have much to teach the world about hope and the face of HIV and AIDS.

Great ambitions

On the day of the visit, the children at the Cyril Ross Nursery expressed their own great ambitions for the future.

“I want to go to college or university to study psychology and then medicine. I’d like to become a doctor,” said Shawn, 18, the first child to enter the nursery when it opened 13 years ago.

Marcus, 13, said he dreams of being an artist when he grows up. During the meeting, he was asked to present Mr. Sangakkara with a painting. The cricketer liked it so much he asked to view all of Marcus’ paintings and promptly bought two others.



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