As the most watched sports event on earth--the 2010 FIFA World Cup--kicks-off in South Africa today, we bring you a story of how UNICEF's soccer programs have changed the lives of young people.
My name is Tshepo. I am from South Africa. I'm 14 years old and I'm from the township of Thubelihle, outside Witbank. I go to school at the local high school, where most of the windows have been broken or vandalized.
There used to be no sport in our school before Lebo Mtshweng arrived. She works as a volunteer with SCORE which is an organization that helps community development through sport together with UNICEF. A lot of the kids used to lack confidence before we started playing football, but now they have so much more belief in themselves.
|Tshepo (in red shirt) plays after school with his teammates on the rough field behind their school.|
My friends and I love football. We make a clearing in the long grass to create a football pitch. Sport makes my friends and I feel fit and strong and it helps us in many areas of our lives. When I'm playing football I have to concentrate to get past the defenders, and this has taught me how to concentrate in the classroom.
My friend Kenneth is three years older and plays football too. He knows many boys that he grew up who have ended up using alcohol and drugs. Football has given me a sense of purpose and helped me stay away from trouble. Our coach encourages us to play soccer and he guides us in life.
Sport and play is central to UNICEF's work, as it boosts children's health, improves academic performance, reduces gender inequality and protects children from harm.
UNICEF and its partners are also leading the way to educate and inform visitors to the World Cup against child labor, child trafficking and sexual abuse through the Red Card campaign and by establishing child friendly spaces in South Africa.
You can help share the joy of soccer with children like Tshepo. Through UNICEF Inspired Gifts, you can provide a durable leather soccer ball, complete with pump for just $31 and bring the beautiful game to children in refugee camps and other neglected corners of the world.
You pay, we deliver and your family member or friend receives a gift card--how's that for teamwork? And with Father's Day round the corner need we say more?