UN teams up with Barcelona football club to help refugee children through sport

22 January 2008

The United Nations refugee agency has partnered with Spanish football giant FC Barcelona to use sport to help provide refugee children with education and life skills.

The three-year agreement signed today in Geneva by UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres and FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta will also assist UNHCR’s “ninemillion.org” campaign to reach its goal of providing education, sport and technology to all refugee children by 2010.

“For us, this partnership is of huge importance,” said Mr. Guterres. “FC Barcelona has the capacity to communicate to society such important values as tolerance, which is crucial for society’s acceptance of refugees and other people in difficult and vulnerable situations.”

Mr. Laporta noted that “as a football club, our most important assets are our football stars. They are the ones who can give that touch of happiness to the most vulnerable people.” The football club’s roster includes international stars such as Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi.

As a first step, UNHCR and FC Barcelona – known to fans as “Barça” – will jointly identify and design a number of education and life skills projects through sport activities to help refugees in Ecuador, Nepal and Rwanda.

Meanwhile, English football star David Beckham has urged the world not to turn a blind eye to the thousands of children that die every day during his recent visit to Sierra Leone as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

According to UNICEF’s annual flagship report “The State of the World’s Children 2008,” Sierra Leone has the highest infant mortality rate in the world.

“In Sierra Leone, one in four children dies before reaching their fifth birthday,” Mr. Beckham said. “It’s shocking and tragic, especially when the solutions are simple. Saving these children’s lives is a top priority for UNICEF – and as an Ambassador, I hope I can help to draw attention to this issue across the world.”

During his trip Mr. Beckham visited a health clinic near the town of Makeni, where he met with patients and administered a polio vaccine to a newborn girl. In another village, he was on hand as insecticide-treated bed nets were distributed to young mothers and pregnant women. He also met with local children, to whom he gave autographed footballs.

UNICEF’s representative in Sierra Leone Geert Cappelaere highlighted the importance of Mr. Beckham’s visit for the agency’s global health agenda. “Child survival is one of the top priorities of UNICEF. His visit will help support our global drive to improve the health of children and women.”

 

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