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Manchester United, arguably the biggest football club in the world, have thrown their weight behind The Independent’s Christmas Appeal to raise money for the rescue of child soldiers by Unicef in one of Africa’s poorest nations.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, today appeals for fans of the club – which is said to have 75 million supporters worldwide – to make donations to this newspaper’s appeal for funds to help the leading children’s charity Unicef in its work negotiating the release of children under the control of rebel militias in the Central African Republic, one of the 10 poorest countries on the continent.
The Appeal centres on the rescue and rehabilitation of boys pressed into fighting and girls forced into sex slavery. Sir Alex says: “Myself and everyone at Manchester United are completely committed to helping Unicef make a change for these young people, and are proud to support The Independent and Unicef appeal.”
Some of the club’s best known footballers are also backing the Appeal. “These kids are missing out on the love and care of parents,” Ryan Giggs, the most decorated player in English football history, says today. “I can’t begin to imagine how scared they must be. So I’m urging The Independent’s readers to support this campaign, and give these kids their childhood back.”
It is estimated that today some 300,000 children – boys and girls from the age of seven to 17 – are involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. One country where there is a large number of child soldiers is the Central African Republic which is home to a number of rebel army groups that use child soldiers. The most notorious is the Lord’s Resistance Army led by the sadistic warlord Joseph Kony which was founded in Uganda and southern Sudan but which now operates primarily in the Central African Republic and neighbouring Chad.
“I think it’s awful that boys and girls, some not much older than my own children, are being snatched from their families and forced to work and fight,” says Rio Ferdinand, the former England captain. “I would really like to encourage all readers to do something to help.”
Our Christmas Appeal this year is asking readers to donate to Unicef’s work in the Central African Republic where it has an extensive programme to negotiate with rebel groups to get these children freed. It then runs transit centres where children who have been released are demobilised, put back in school, given psychological help and vocational training, and are reunited with their families or resettled with foster carers. To do this Unicef depends entirely on voluntary donations. Despite its title as the United Nations children’s organisation it does not receive any money from the UN.
Other Man Utd players have also endorsed the Appeal. The former French captain Patrice Evra and the top Mexico striker Javier Hernandez both enthusiastically backed the Appeal at a United for Unicef gala dinner to celebrate 13 years of the partnership between the club and the charity– the longest running of its kind between a sporting organisation and a global charity. “The work that Unicef is doing to help rescue and rehabilitate these kids is fantastic,” said Evra, who has privately visited the charity’s work in the field.
“Everyone at Manchester United is passionate and committed to supporting this charity,” said Sir Alex.
“For some of these boys and girls war is all they can remember, and that’s no way to grow up,” says Javier Hernandez, the young Mexican international. “With the help of the Independent appeal Unicef can really make a difference in the lives of these children. That’s why I am calling on The Independent’s readers to back this appeal 100 per cent.”
Sir Alex Ferguson: Throughout our 13-year United for Unicef partnership I’ve visited many of Unicef’s projects and met many of the children Unicef help, and to hear how young people suffer around the world is always devastating. The boys and girls that this appeal is helping are not only taken away from the safety and love of their families, but then forced into life as a soldier. That this is still happening in this day and age is an outrage. Myself and everyone at Manchester United are completely committed to helping Unicef make a change for these young people, and are proud to support The Independent and Unicef appeal.
Ryan Giggs: These kids are missing out on the love and care of parents, and are missing out on their childhood. I can’t begin to imagine how scared they must be. I’ve been lucky enough to see for myself the difference that Unicef can make to these young lives, so I’m urging The Independent’s readers to support this campaign, and give these kids their childhood back.
Rio Ferdinand: I think it’s awful that boys and girls, some not much older than my own children, are being snatched from their families and forced to work and fight. I couldn’t believe it when I heard there are still over 300,000 children around the world who are directly involved in fighting, living without enough food, and without their family’s love. I’m really happy to support The Independent’s and Unicef’s Christmas appeal this year and would really like to encourage all readers to do something to help.
Patrice Evra: The work that Unicef is doing to help rescue and rehabilitate these kids is fantastic. I have seen the great work that Unicef do with vulnerable children and I know that all of us at Manchester United are completely committed to supporting Unicef in this cause, and I’m calling on others to do the same.
Javier Hernandez: We all have a responsibility to do everything in our power to give these kids a chance of a real childhood. For some of these boys and girls war is all they can remember, and that’s no way to grow up. With the help of The Independent’s appeal Unicef can really make a difference in the lives of these children. They can make sure they have a safe place to grow up, someone to care for them, and a chance to get an education to give them the future they deserve.
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