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Manchester United legend Bryan Robson visits at-risk adolescents in Kuala Lumpur

© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/Nadchatram
Manchester United football star Bryan Robson gives the thumbs up to safe spaces for vulnerable teens to play sports during a visit to the 'KL Krash Pad' in the Chow Kit neighbourhood of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Manchester United Foundation Chief Executive John Shiels is at right.

By Indra Kumari Nadchatram

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, 12 April 2011 – Manchester United football legend Bryan Robson stressed the importance of safe recreational spaces for vulnerable and at-risk adolescents during his recent visit to the ‘KL Krash Pad’ – a teen and youth centre located in the inner-city Chow Kit neighbourhood of Kuala Lumpur.

“Sport can play an important role in helping marginalized and vulnerable adolescents cope with and overcome the challenges in their lives,” said Mr. Robson. “Through sport, recreation and play, these adolescents can learn to exercise judgment and think critically while finding solutions to their problems.”

The iconic former Manchester United captain – known as ‘Captain Marvel’ to his fans – stressed the need to provide vulnerable teens with an alternative to life on the streets, violence, exploitation and behaviour that can lead to HIV.

Mr. Robson, Manchester United Foundation Chief Executive John Shiels and former club mate Andy Cole were on a two-day visit to Malaysia for the Manchester United Foundation and UNICEF Legends Charity Dinner. Held in association with Telekom Malaysia Berhad, the event raised funds to support the KL Krash Pad programmes.

Proceeds from the charity auction will be used to create a safe space for the centre’s teens as well as an income-generation initiative for young people, and a programme to develop adolescents as strong peer leaders.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/Nadchatram
'KL Krash Pad' Youth Programme Coordinator Firdaus (right) briefs Manchester United football legend Bryan Robson (centre) and Manchester United Foundation Chief Executive John Shiels about the lack of safe recreational opportunities for teens in the Chow Kit neighbourhood of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Lack of safe spaces

Sport was critical in helping Hafiz*, 19, kick a drug addiction he developed while living on the streets. Rescued by KL Krash Pad outreach workers in late 2010, Hafiz was brought to the centre and provided with counselling and the opportunity to rebuild his life.

“The KL Krash Pad staff helped get me into a sport programme, organizing transportation for me to go for training in Shah Alam,” he said. “It was difficult at first, but playing sports helped me focus on something besides drugs. The sport trainings are helping me work out my frustrations, helping me respect my body. I am off drugs for three months now and I am determined to make it last, for myself and the staff of the Pad, who believe in me.”

Like Hafiz, Linda, 17, is an avid champion of sports – particularly indoor football. “I love playing futsal because it challenges the stereotype that girls are weaker than boys. I learn discipline, teamwork and, most importantly, to feel confident about being a girl,” she said.

Both Hafiz and Linda lamented the lack of safe spaces for teens and young people to play sport. “There is really nowhere in Chow Kit where we can play sport like futsal with our friends. It’s not safe to play on the streets. Many of us cannot afford to rent futsal courts to train and play,” said Linda.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/Nadchatram
'KL Krash Pad' regular Linda, 17, discusses indoor football tips with Manchester United Foundation Chief Executive John Shiels (left) and football legend Bryan Robson.

Falling through the net

“Invisible and ‘hidden’ adolescents, in particular, are being neglected, such as those engaged in illegal behaviour like drug use and sex work or those without legal status or birth registration,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative in Malaysia Victor Karunan. “Accessing safe spaces to connect with peers, to learn, play and adopt positive lifestyles becomes almost impossible when they live on streets shadowed with crime, violence, drug abuse and HIV.”

According to Malaysia’s 2010 report to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV and AIDS, some 2,000 adolescents in Malaysia have tested HIV-positive since the first reported case in 1986. Last year, one in four Malaysians newly diagnosed with HIV were between the ages of 13 and 29.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/Nadchatram
A teen from 'KL Krash Pad' in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia challenges Manchester United legend Bryan Robson to a Wii football match.
The problems underlying HIV infection in young people include sexual and physical violence, sex work and human trafficking, as well as underage and unprotected sex.

Healing scars with sport

“It is never too late to help marginalized and vulnerable adolescents escape their difficult and challenging childhood. The time is now,” said Mr. Karunan. “Sport is both an excellent entry point and a powerful tool to mobilize adolescents for positive behaviour change.”

Added Mr. Shiels of the Manchester United Foundation: “Through sport, vulnerable inner-city teens such as those who visit the KL Krash Pad get to express their feelings, build their self-esteem and confidence and develop trust in adults. For victimized teens, this opportunity becomes even more valuable, as sport can heal emotional scars.”

* The names of adolescents mentioned in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.



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