Feyenoord and Unicef tied up their close cooperation early last year. The club has since organised a number of fundraising ventures, including an annual friendly game, all the proceeds of which go the children’s fund, and the Unicef Gala. The revenues raised go to the HIV/AIDS project ‘What Every Adolescent Has the Right to Know’ in Ghana, a global programme for and by young people.
Feyenoord is committed to investing more than money alone in the partnership and especially wants to follow the progress of the project with its own eyes.
The journey to the home country of Feyenoord defender Chris Gyan was packed with a full programme. ‘We had a good flight out there,’ says Lodewijks. ‘We were welcomed at the airport by Karel Brokken, the manager of the Fetteh Football Academy in Ghana. We went for something to eat with him and then straight to bed.’
The programme proper stared on Tuesday. ‘In the morning we went to the headquarters of Unicef. It’s there that we heard what they actually do. Unicef was the red thread through the whole week. In the afternoon we visited a district of Accra. We saw for ourselves how the AIDS project was being put into practice. The information is given in the form of a game and a quiz. It’s called “Towards the Land of Hope.” It was made clear that there are traps in life, but that there are lifeboats you can jump into too. The kids were told how to recognise the dangers of HIV infection at an early stage.’
After a good night’s rest the delegation made the long passage to Fetteh on Wednesday. ‘The journey to Fetteh was very impressive,’ says Lodewijks. ‘We passed a refugee camp full of Liberians. It really was a picture of despair. It was the Africa we know from the media, with children in bare feet. The Academy, where we ultimately arrived, made a positive impression on me. They work earnestly there, the discipline is good and it is clean. The children are well aware that they have been given a unique opportunity. You would think that a football academy like that would be founded by European clubs to pinch away cheap talent, but that is not the case at all. The boys at the Academy are given an education, regardless of whether they make the grade as a footballer or not. They escape a underprivileged existence.’
Lodewijks and Curth also visited the home of one of the Academy’s students, where the two Europeans were confronted with out-and-out poverty. ‘The whole family, young and old, were standing alongside the road selling knickknacks to try and make enough for a little food. In the holidays the students are given a food parcel to take home, but they most likely share it with the whole family. The holiday cannot last longer than two weeks, because the players would lose too much weight. On average they lose two kilos in the holidays. It’s very clear that Ghana is a developing country. I cannot believe that the people are happy, although they may not know any better. It was distressing to see. It’s difficult to explain how you feel; you have to have been there.’
Football was an important part during the Ghana trip. The Feyenoord players were the main guests at a tournament in the streets of Accra. ‘There is a lot of scouting at such a tournament,’ the keeper reveals. ‘That means that there is a lot of passion. The children are fully aware that this may be their only chance to escape. At the same time, there is a lot of sadness, because the losers think they will not be chosen by European football clubs if they lose.’
Lodewijks and Curth were asked to present the prizes at the end of the day. ‘We did attract a lot of attention at the prize ceremony. We arrived in two Unicef Land Rovers, so that gets you noticed. And we are white of course, so you stand out quite a bit.’
Looking back at the trip as a whole, one thing stands out for Lodewijks. ‘Our visit to the Accra neighbourhood was the most distressing. I have kids myself and I saw kids of their age washing themselves in a bowl and walking around bare-footed. And I didn’t see a toilet anywhere.’
‘I am very fortunate to be in a position to ask for attention for the problems in Ghana because I am a well-known footballer. But when you go there, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. It touches you. And then we returned to a prosperous country, with people who complain about the slightest thing. This trip was a great experience and I was glad I made it. It will make me think the next time I make a big thing of something insignificant.’
‘I would like find out how some of the boys at the school get on in the next few years. I’m curious whether there are talented youngsters among them who become successful in soccer or commerce. If they do, Feyenoord has been successful in this project.