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FIFA World Cup 2010 champion Sergio Ramos of Spain inspires children in Senegal

Dakar, Senegal, 20 July 2010 – Just days after becoming a champion as a member of the victorious Spanish national football team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Sergio Ramos chose to spend his time off the field visiting UNICEF projects in Senegal.

“This week was one of the most special weeks of my life,” he said. “Two of my dreams came true: I won the World Cup, and I was able to travel to Africa and interact with children there.”

In Pout, a village about 60 km from Dakar, Mr. Ramos saw community health programmes that focus on improving the nutrition of mothers and their young children. And at a health post in the village of Keur Seydou, he held and weighed a newborn baby girl named Fatou.

Routine weight check-ups are just one part of the process that helps monitor the growth of local children to detect signs of under-nutrition. Such local health interventions are important in a country where 17 per cent of children under five years of age are chronically undernourished.

Reaching children at risk
Participating in the process helped Mr. Ramos understand how a community approach helps UNICEF and its partners reach children at risk of health or nutrition problems.

In Pout, for example, health workers use ‘Rapid SMS’ technology to monitor children in the area. RapidSMS is an open-source framework for data collection, logistics and communication via text messaging on mobile phones.

Here’s how it works: Mothers come to the health centre to learn about proper nutrition and record information about their children’s growth. A text message with the weight and measurements of each child is then sent to a central database, through which the Ministry of Health can assess when the local population might be approaching a danger point.

© UNICEF Senegal/2010/Bueno
Sergio Ramos surprises Senegalese youth in a suburb of Dakar by joining them in a soccer match under the midday sun.

Inspiration, on and off the field
Besides visiting health centres, Mr. Ramos witnessed the work of projects that aim to protect vulnerable children from abuse and exploitation. Many of these children live in urban poverty.

At a Koranic school, Mr. Ramos met dozens of children sleep on a dirt floor while receiving an Islamic education. More than 8,000 children in Dakar alone are Talibe – students at Koranic schools who spend hours each day begging in the streets.

“After meeting these children and seeing the conditions they are living in, I have realized that some things we have are so necessary and other things are not necessary at all,” said Mr. Ramos. One of those necessary elements is education, he added.

Success in sport and life
While in Senegal, the star footballer also participated in an initiative that uses soccer to help vulnerable children to interact with their peers in a safe environment within the community.

In one of the poorest suburbs of Dakar, children gathered to play in a local tournament. As Mr. Ramos came in to begin the game with a tap of the ball, children gathered around him along the sidelines and on the pitch.

“It feels so good to laugh with these children on a football field,” said Mr. Ramos. Under the hot sun, the children chased after the defender, who scored a goal as they cheered loudly.

“I myself come from a very modest family,” he said later. “As a child, I dreamt that one day I would touch the World Cup. I would like to tell the children that they should continue dreaming and walking toward their dreams – going to the school, working hard and never saying it’s impossible. Dreams can come true.”



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