Manchester United Manager and UNICEF United Kingdom Ambassador Sir Alex Ferguson recently took time out from the club’s pre-season tour of South Africa to learn about the impact of violence and abuse on the country’s orphans and to call on communities to play an active role in protecting vulnerable children.
South Africa has 3.4 million orphans; they are nearly a fifth of the country’s children. Many have lost one or both parents to HIV. These children often live in extreme poverty, suffer from stress or grief, and are vulnerable to abuse, violence and exploitation.
Mr. Ferguson and Manchester United player Ben Amos visited orphans and vulnerable children in the rural community of Ndwedwe, in KwaZulu-Natal, and learned about UNICEF’s work to protect and support them.
Safety and support for vulnerable children
‘Isibinidi’ – which means ‘courage’ in the local language – is a community-based project supported by UNICEF and the National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers, developed to care for vulnerable children and to break the cycle of abuse and violence that they face.
The project trains child care workers to support orphans and their families. These child care workers conduct regular home visits, provide practical support with important everyday activities such as cooking and homework, and offer much-needed psychosocial support. ‘Isibindi’ also builds and maintains a network of ‘Safe Parks’, areas where children can safely play, study and learn important life skills such HIV prevention.
Mr. Ferguson visited a ‘Safe Park’ where he spoke with 15-year-old Simphiwe, 12-year-old Ntobeka and 9-year-old Thandeka. The siblings were orphaned when both their parents died in quick succession over five years ago. The siblings are in the care of an aunt and are receiving support from Thulisile, 26-year-old child care worker.
“I found it very hard to look after the three children when they lost their parents,” said their aunt, Siphelele. “I was struggling. When Thulisile first visited, I didn’t think she would be able to help, but now I see her as a daughter. Her support has transformed the household and provided us all with the help we need. I don’t know where we would be without her.”
Calling for further efforts to protect children
“As a UNICEF Ambassador and through Manchester United’s 13-year ‘United for UNICEF’ partnership, I’ve visited many projects, but to hear how young people, especially orphans, suffer is always shattering,” said Mr. Ferguson.
Manchester United has been working with UNICEF since 1999 through the ‘United for UNICEF’ partnership, which has raised over £2.5 million for UNICEF programmes, benefiting more than 2.2 million children worldwide.
"Orphans and other vulnerable children often live in abject poverty. They miss out on the love and care of parents, miss out on the rights and opportunities that every child requires, face abuse and risk being pushed into a life of crime, forced labour and sexual exploitation. This should not be the case," he continued.
“UNICEF is calling on all communities to step up and play a more significant role in protecting all children, especially the most vulnerable, from abuse and violence. Projects like ‘Isibindi’ are making a real difference, but to reach the millions of orphans in South Africa, UNICEF needs more support. Manchester United is committed to supporting UNICEF in this cause, and I’m calling on others to do the same.”
Names changed to protect the children’s identities