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Goodwill Ambassador Kanu Nwankwo promotes ‘Football for Hope’

Kanu and 'team UNICEF'
© UNICEF Nigeria/2008/Abdulmalik
'Team UNICEF' children, recruited to be a part of 'Project Excel', pose for a picture with Goodwill Ambassador, Kanu Nwankwo and their trainers and caretakers.

By Oluseyi Abdulmalik and Geoffrey Njoku

LAGOS, 6 August 2008 – It was another wet and humid day in Lagos and in this somewhat rough and rowdy township of Agege, hundreds of children were gathered and waiting in the makeshift stadium grounds. You could feel the excitement in the air and the anticipation on the faces of the children was clear to see. Not even the rains could dampen the prospect of what was going to be for them, an unforgettable experience.

As he made his entrance onto the grounds, the children’s screams and shouts were deafening – and who could blame them. After all, this was the first time any of them had ever seen him in person. To them, Kanu Nwankwo, famous Nigerian football star and Captain of the National team, is someone they hear about and someone who inspires their hopes and dreams.

Hundreds of excited children have gathered on this day in the township of Agege, to meet Nigerian football star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Nwankwo Kanu. Nwankwo’s appearance marked the end of the first phase of ‘Project Excel’ – a joint venture of FIFA’s ‘Football for Hope’, Search and Groom Youth Development Centre and UNICEF.

The primary objective of the ‘Football for Hope’ movement is to strengthen sustainable social and human development programmes such as healthcare improvement, children's rights, education, peace promotion, anti-discrimination, social integration and the environment. The movement is meant to help the United Nations reach its Millennium Goals by 2015.

The Search and Groom Youth Development Centre is FIFA’s Football For Hope official football and development partner in Nigeria. The street football programme works with children from socio-economically disadvantaged communities, using football as a simple but effective tool for social change and community regeneration.

Using football to promote social change

Saheed looks younger than his 17 years. He was on the streets of Lagos for over a year before being rescued by UNICEF through the Child to Child network. He is now benefiting from the Football for Hope movement.

“What this means to us is that maybe we can have a shot at a normal life,” says Saheed.

For the past three months, Saheed, along with other boys, were put up in camps and received training in football, clothes and regular meals. They also received counselling to help them develop their self esteem and build confidence in themselves.

The boys were also taught English and mathematics, and have participated in various cultural activities and games. It is the most stable home environment most of them have experienced in a long time.

Encouraging children’s hopes and dreams

Nwankwo Kanu started out just like the children he met through the programme.

“I was one of these kids, playing street soccer and dreaming of a better life” he says. “We all have to come together, as communities. As individuals, we must do what we can to support these children and ensure a better life for them”.

Just before he kicked-off the games, Nwankwo Kanu told the children to work hard and be committed to their dreams, as it can pay off for them just as it did for him. Judging from the excitement of the children in attendance, it is a lesson they will not soon forget.



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