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At a glance: Spain

Uganda Kids League in exhibition match with FC Barcelona cadet team

© 2007/Fricker
Young footballers from Uganda’s Kids League pose for photos before the FC Barcelona-Zaragoza game at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium.

By Miranda Eeles

BARCELONA, Spain, 2 February 2007 – Amongst the TV cameras and photographers, 16 boys from Uganda shivered in the cold and rain but waited patiently. When the moment arrived, they walked out onto the pitch in Camp Nou – the stadium of Football Club Barcelona – and the crowd roared in appreciation.

The boys appeared calm but deep inside, they said later, they could not believe what was happening to them. “I saw Ronaldinho with my naked eyes!” enthused one boy, Ali Abujeri.

The teenagers belong to The Kids League (TKL), a non-governmental organization supported by UNICEF in Uganda. Keen to demonstrate the importance of UNICEF’s sports for development programmes, FC Barcelona invited the TKL members to spend the day at the club and play a game against one of Barcelona’s junior teams earlier this week.

Spreading HIV/AIDS awareness

Using sport and recreation to bring children together, TKL started three years ago in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, with just a couple of hundred members. Now it is running in 10 districts and boasts a membership of 25,000 boys and girls.

“You throw a ball into a village in Uganda and within 10 minutes 100 children have gathered,” explained TKL’s country programme director, Trevor Dudley. “Any sport – be it netball, football or basketball – is like a magnet and is a wonderful way to unite children and break down barriers.”

The TKL project is also a powerful tool for spreading important messages on health and education. The results are impressive. According to Mr. Dudley, attendance rates in schools where TKL is active have improved, and children are much more aware about problems such as HIV and AIDS.

“Taking part in activities such as The Kid’s League makes children believe in themselves,” added coach Eddie Butindu. “I have seen their behaviour change. They are more disciplined, show more humility but are also positive about their lives.”

© 2007 Trevor Dudley
At the end of their day with FC Barcelona, The Kid’s League had a surprise meeting with Cameroonian football star Samuel Eto’o.

Teamwork, friendship and leadership

Many of the children in the programme come from the north of Uganda, where conflict and violence have been a part of life for 20 years. More than a million people live in internally displaced people’s camps where conditions are harsh and often unsafe.

“I come from a place where life is very, very difficult,” explained Richard Oloya Aceba, 14, who lives in a Kitgum District camp for people displaced by the conflict. “Before I joined The Kids League it was bad, as I had nothing to do all day and spent my time thinking about worrying about tomorrow,” he said. “Now I am much happier, as I can get out and see other places.”

Through sport, TKL children learn about teamwork, friendship and leadership skills. Volunteers from the community work as referees, coaches, scorers and administrators. Very often, it is the children’s parents themselves who participate.

FC Barcelona-UNICEF partnership

Programmes such as TKL highlight how sport can have a real impact on children’s lives.

“This way of cooperation could give an example to a lot of people that through football and with organizations like UNICEF, we can improve our society,” said FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta.

UNICEF and FC Barcelona signed a five-year partnership agreement last year in support of programmes reaching some of the world’s most vulnerable children. Every year for five years, the club will donate 1.5 million Euros to help fund projects aimed at combating AIDS in Africa and Latin America.

Back at Camp Nou in their match with the FC Barcelona cadet team, TKL players had several shots at the goal – including one by striker Ibrahim Juma that very nearly hit the back of the net.

In the end, they didn’t win the friendly match, but the evening rounded off with VIP seats to watch Barça play Zaragoza in the Copa del Rei Cup. And a surprise meeting with their idol – Cameroonian football star and Barca player Samuel Eto’o – left a winning smile on everyone’s face.

Sabine Dolan contributed to this story from New York.




2 February 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the Uganda Kids League’s special visit and match with FC Barcelona’s cadet team.
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