Man United Stars: Help Children With HIV/AIDS Lead A Normal Life

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3(Bernama) -- The excitement and anxiety were on their faces. The children had been fidgeting with nervousness almost one hour before the 'special guests' arrived.

Chris Ng, the facilitator for the event, was busy chatting with the children who sat in a circle, more of an effort to soothe their nerves.

As soon as the special guests appeared, their faces lighted up, in particular M.H, for he now came face to face with his football icons -- Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra and Federico 'Kiko' Macheda of the Manchester United Football Club.

The three Manchester United players visited these children of five boys and four girls at PT Foundation's Positive Living Drop-In Centre on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman here, about four hours after the Red Devils team landed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) last July 17.

The English Premier League (EPL) champions were in Malaysia as part of their Asia Tour 2009.

The children selected for the get-together session were from families affected with HIV, whose parents were sex workers or drug users as well as street children and refugee children.

During the one-hour session, the children shared their feelings, dreams and daily life experiences, shadowed by HIV, drug abuse, violence, exploitation and displacement, with the special guests.

The Manchester United stars were joined by John Shiels, Manchester United Foundation Chief Executive.

Youssouf Oomar, Unicef Representative to Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei Darussalam was also present.


In an interview with the media, Giggs who has been associated with Unicef since 1999 said education would be the key to break down the stigma against children having HIV.

The people, he said, may not know a lot about HIV and AIDS and educating them will break down the stigma and allow the young children to lead a normal life and give them a chance any children would have.

In describing the suffering of marginalised children due to stigma as a tragedy, Giggs hoped the visit to PT Foundation Positive Living Drop-In Centre would send the much needed message.

"Hopefully today we can put across that message. There is no need to shun them or disown them. They are only children. Maybe they have different background and experience in life but they too have aspirations.

"No matter what their background is, where they live or their HIV status, they should be treated equally like the children I have seen here today. They are lovely and intelligent children.

"They want to make a difference in the world because of their experience and that is very pleasing to hear," said Giggs who was also appointed as Unicef's United Kingdom Ambassador since 2006.

He also hoped children who looked up to football players as their idols and did not know so much about HIV would adopt a positive attitude towards the affected children upon seeing pictures of the players interacting with them.


Meanwhile John Shiels said the slogan for the foundation, "Inspiring Potential Fulfilling Dream", aptly matched the get-together session between the footballers and children.

"It is about giving these youngsters a belief in themselves on what they want and with a little bit of luck and with them working hard, they can go towards it," he said.

During his talk with the children, Shiels was using Kiko who was born in Rome, Italy and who signed as a professional player with Manchester United at the age of 16, to inspire them.

"Kiko is now 17 years old. He has the world at his feet and he is tipped to be a big star but only if he makes the right decision along the way. The right decision to look after himself properly and surrounds himself with friends of values.

"The facilitator, Chris (Ng) explained to the children that they too have to make the same decision, to ask themselves whether they are in the right circle of friends," said Shiels.

According to Shiels, from what he had gathered while conversing with the children (Chris acting as the interpreter) was the feeling of anger welling up in their hearts for having to put on a 'public face' despite being frustrated with their lives.

The children, he said, was told there was nothing wrong in being angry but they must learn how to control their anger.

"There is more chance of finding a solution if they are positive rather than being negative and say there is nothing I can do.

"We also told them if they cannot find the answer, they should not be afraid to talk about the issues and to find people or agencies that can provide the answer," said Shiels who himself has four children who aged 15 to 19 years old.

As for Ng, he described the session as very beneficial for the children because the Manchester United players were living examples of success.

"The players shared their personal experience. Evra who is from Senegal is from a poor background and he told the children he never lost track of what he wanted to be.

"The players also stressed on discipline and education. The children really showed their interest. There was no language barrier and they were just being themselves," said Ng.


Speaking to Bernama after the football stars had left the session, M.H, 17, who has been playing football for the past six years, was obviously still on 'cloud nine'.

M.H said he was so elated when told two weeks ealier that he would be meeting the players, to a point he was not able to sleep.

"Giggs, Evra and Macheda, they are too good. I followed their games on television and meeting them today has made one of my dreams come true," said M.H who aspired to be a professional footballer.

M.H who sat next to Giggs during the interaction session said he posed a question to his football icon n what made Manchester United so successful.

"The reply was play well, believe in yourself and if you want to win you have to play good.

"I also asked Evra a question on how to be a good footballer and he told me if I want to be successful, I must believe in myself, train hard everyday and no matter what the people say, whether I can do or not do, I must just believe in myself. If I have a dream, just work on it and it will become true, "said M.H.


The visit by the three Manchester United players and Shiels marked the latest highlight in the 10 years 'United for Unicef' partnership between the Old Trafford football club and Unicef.

It also signified the club's continuing commitment to Unicef's 'United for Children, United Against AIDS' global campaign.

Since 1999, the club has raised over US$3.75 million (approximately RM13 million) for Unicef programmes which had benefited over 1.5 children worldwide.

The club's 10-year partnership with Unicef coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this year.

Oomar said children from marginalised communities, including children of sex workers and drug users as well as refugee children became virtually invisible as they were excluded from the mainstream of society due to prejudices, stigma and discrimination.

"The fact that the players came today, talking to the children and brought joy to the children, it is because they care and concerned. They feel they can do something to bring some joy in the lives of the children and keep that smile on their face.

"It is great so let us together be united for children so that together united we can keep the smile of the face of the child," said Oomar.


No comments: