Juventus and UNESCO yesterday witnessed education and sport come together to benefit the social rehabilitation of children affected by the conflicts that hit the Central African Republic in 2013.
The country is emerging from a crisis that raged for over a year, making thousands of children extremely vulnerable in the process.
With an estimated 6,000 child soldiers in the capital of Bangui, and 10,000 throughout the nation as a whole, there is clearly work to be done in helping these youngsters along the road towards self-sufficiency and independence.
The funding provided by Juventus has been crucial in setting the wheels of the restoration process in motion, and this was viewed for the first time yesterday in person by Juventus Legends president David Trezeguet and UNESCO’s Assistant-Director General Eric Falt.
Trezeguet’s arrival at the arts and trades school, located just a couple of kilometres outside of Bangui city centre, was a sight to behold: children lined up in two rows, eagerly awaiting his entrance, bearing flags and photographs whilst chanting ‘David… Trezeguet, David… Trezeguet’.
After stepping out of the car – to rapturous applause, cheers and a bouquet of flowers from a young girl – the club ambassador began his tour of the structure, learning all about the project from those whose tireless efforts make it work on a daily basis - teachers and students.
The latter category is comprised of 100 children, either former child soldiers or those considered as vulnerable, and is currently undergoing the first round of training since the project came to life in March of this year.
Here they learn practical and professional competencies designed to equip them for a brighter future, including leatherworks, welding, jewellery making, basket weaving and wood sculpting.
One particular skill, however, remains the initiative’s number one priority.
“Literacy is the most important aspect we aim to achieve,” says Falt. “Knowing they can read and write will make a big difference. Afterwards, we try to help them acquire basic skills that will set them on the road to independence.
“They have been left on their own for the most part of their lives so becoming independent and reintegrating into society is a gift in itself. The children we see here have already entered a new world, if you had come here a year ago you would have witnessed a different scene entirely.”
“It was a positive experience in every respect,” remarked Trezeguet. “I’ve been treated to an extraordinary welcome and had the opportunity to see these children preparing for an important future. You can see their desire to grow and get out of the situation they find themselves in.
“Being here alongside UNESCO is important because they’ve travelled the world and visited some of the toughest environments. We’ll continue to work together and remain united in our aim to make a difference.”
After visiting a teacher training centre designed to hone practical skills for the classroom, the delegation passed to the ‘Stade Vingt-mille Places’, venue of an afternoon exhibition match between teachers and students of the arts and trades school.
Three hours before kick-off, spectators were already making their way inside to secure a prime spot for Trezeguet’s appearance, and by the time he returned, they were in full voice to greet him.
If the passion for football wasn’t clear enough by yesterday morning’s visit to both education centers, a brief look into the stands, coloured by replica shirts from a host national and club teams, confirmed Bangui’s enthusiasm for the beautiful game.
And sport, in the eyes of Falt, has the potential to serve as a fundamental tool for social cohesion in areas of hardship.
He said: “Sport can be a unifier in a society that’s been torn by conflict – and we’ve seen it here. It wasn’t just at the stadium, we saw children playing football in the streets.
“Trezeguet is a hero to many people who saw him as a distant idol that they could never get near. Today they touched him, shook hands with him, waved and chanted his name.”
The biggest cheer of the day came when the 3,000-strong crowd, including the country’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Ningatouloum Sayo, witnessed Trezeguet emerge to join the action, initially representing the teachers in Juventus’ yellow kit.
Half-time saw the Frenchman switch to the traditional black and white stripes and lend a helping hand to the students, who ran out 4-0 winners in a match capped off by a classic Trezeguet poacher’s goal.
Reflecting on the experience, he enthused: “It was a fun occasion for everyone. You can see they’re big followers of football and coming to a place where people recognise me as an ambassador of Juventus spurs me on to do the best I possibly can in my role.”