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Thursday, 28 June 2012

Football's Philanthropists #2 | Nwankwo Kanu

Kanu completing his famous hat trick at Stamford Bridge
The next installment of my series is a player Arsenal fans will be very familiar with, especially our many fervent Nigerian Gooners! Nwankwo Kanu, like Clarence Seedorf, has experienced an illustrious playing career spanning over 20 years, and is recognized internationally as a philanthropist, or in Nigeria, as a deity.

His honours include a UEFA Cup, a Champions League, three FA Cups and two Premier League medals, among others. Not to mention being named Africa's Best Player on two occasions. Not many can say the same.

At the tender age of twenty, Kanu had already won an Olympic gold medal with Nigeria and a Champions League with Ajax, who famously defeated AC Milan in the 1995 final. However a move to Inter the following year would reveal something that brushed all such honors into mere insignificance.

Kanu's medical at the Milan club showed he had a serious heart defect, and the future of his career was shrouded with uncertainty. He underwent surgery and thankfully returned to action a year later. It was this experience that inspired the establishment of the Kanu Heart Foundation in 2000.

Nigeria's infrastructure in the health sector is, by all accounts, under-resourced. The World Health Organisation reported that the country has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world, and, combined with its high maternal mortality rate, is beleagured with preventable deaths.

As the name implies, The Kanu Heart Foundation aims to provide the necessary medical care for Nigerian people with heart deficiencies and eventually, other African populations.

Kanu with some of the children his charity has helped
To date, the charity has handled over 450 cases with an astonishing 98% success rate, which highlights my aforementioned point that so many deaths in this country are preventable.

In most cases, the patients are sent abroad to countries such as India and Israel, as the medical facilities in Nigeria are not of the required standard. However the charity are unable to handle this financial burden, with Kanu stating that sending one child overseas for treatment costs up to five times more than it would be domestically. The foundation has spent over 4.2 million dollars thus far.

Recently Kanu has revealed a plan to build a medical centre in Nigeria, partly as an attempt to ease the financial strain of sending patients abroad. However, this project on its own will cost the charity up to one million dollars - and that's just the start up costs. As they expand - which Kanu aims to do - new land and expertise will have to be resourced and this in itself is a difficult task.

Fundraising events have been a major source of capital for the foundation. For example, six years ago Kanu hosted an event which players from a large variety of teams attended, and donated. Forget rivalry.
"A lot of people helped me at Arsenal, and they have stayed involved - we also have players from Chelsea, Tottenham, West Ham and other clubs coming along to the evening and other Nigerian players" - Kanu
Kanu expects the centre to perform at least 250 open-heart surgeries annually and offer free treatment to children under 12 years, whilst subsidising the cost of treatment for adults.
"Even if you save one life, that is a lot, so to do 250 in a year - that means more than winning trophies" - Kanu
Bill Shankley once said that football means more than life or death. It clearly doesn't. After Fabrice Muamba collapsed whilst playing at White Hart Lane, rivalry was forgotten. Football seemed irrelevant. And, in Kanu's eyes, that is the case when it comes to the heart foundation.
"The experience I went through with my operation makes you a stronger person - I have seen a lot. It takes away all the pressures on you. You realise there is a lot more to life than football" - Kanu
I think this article pretty much encapsulates the work this great man has done and continues to do. For the Nigerian Gooners reading this, I encourage you to share your thoughts + insight in the comments section below - I look forward to hearing from you!

I'll part with a final quote from Kanu and provide you with your daily dose of inspiration!
“I have won a lot of trophies and medals in football. Till this day, the best trophy I have won and cherished more has been saving souls through the Kanu Nwankwo Heart Foundation. Whatever we do in trying to save a life will not be forgotten and I urge Nigerians to key into this effort of ours to save the numerous souls who are suffering from heart-related problems”
Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed, follow me on Twitter @rlewisafc. Up The Arse!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Football's philanthropists #1 | Clarence Seedorf

Now the football season is over, interesting debates and incidents are minimal. Twitter is a hotbed for transfer bullshit, instigated by bored folk hunting for new followers to spew their in the know crap to. Thus, I decided that this summer I shall do a series on The Wonder of Wenger on football's most charitable players (in no particular order). It is certainly an interesting topic and one that I'm sure many will prefer over meaningless transfer gossip. My opener will be Clarence Seedorf - a man we all greatly admire as a footballer and hopefully after reading this, as a person.

A playing career which started before I was even born - in 1992 - would see Mr. Seedorf become one of Europe's most successful players. His tally for club honours is 20 (twenty!) which averages out to a trophy in every one of his 20 seasons as a player, while his individual honours are hardly scarce. He was named in Real Madrid's team of the century and also named by Pele as part of the FIFA 100, a list of the 100 greatest living players. Seedorf became the first ever footballer to win the Champions League on four occasions with three different teams; Ajax in 1995, Real Madrid in 1998 and AC Milan in 2003 and 2007. A tremendous achievement which will struggle to be beaten.

Aside from his remarkable playing career, Seedorf has invested heavily in charity. In 2005, Champions for Children was established, which is aimed to improve the lives of children in developing countries often by the means of sport and education.
“Witnessing the famine that strangled Ethiopia in the nineteen- eighties, when I was just a child, had a profound effect on me and sparked my desire to give and literally shaped my destiny. With this experience as a catalyst and seeing all the suffering around the globe, I made a vow in my youth to help hurting people and make a contribution to my world in as many ways as I could. Improving the quality of life through health and  education is my vision"  -Clarence Seedorf 

Seedorf was born in Suriname, a developing country in South America. Around half a million people are populated in and around the capital city, Parmaribo, yet there are just 4 hospitals. Champions for Children invested €110,000 in a neonatal respiratory care unit in order to provide care for newborns with respiratory deficiencies.

Due to his strong connection with his place of birth, Seedorf also invested €250,000 in the set up of the Para Junior Football League. Composed of 32 teams with players aged 9-15 years old, the project is aimed to "promote integrity and fair play" amongst the youth, giving them an alternative to life on the streets.
"My dream has always been to give back to this world and especially to children. By supporting education through sport, we can help build a brighter future and teach authentic life skills and community values.” -Clarence Seedorf

Since its foundation, Champions for Children has completed six projects in countries all over the world, such as Cambodia, Kenya, Brazil and of course Suriname. The charity invested €50,000 in sports facilities in seven schools in the Phnom Pehn district in Cambodia - one of Asia's poorest countries. Similar to the Para Football League, this project aims to provide young people with an alternative to life on the streets. Drug use is prevalent in Cambodia, and Champions for Children believe the investment in sports facilities is the best deterrent.

Moreover, the charity provided €150,000 for the construction of a secondary school in one of the largest slums in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. This provides over 250 thirteen to seventeen year olds the access to basic education, which they were devoid of beforehand.

Champions for Children then invested €50,000 in the construction of a sports and recreation centre in the favelas of Salvador De Bahia, Brazil's third largest city. Here, poverty is strife with almost 50% of the city's 3.5 million population living in 'structurally precarious' housing without sanitation. Gun crime is commonplace and the city is in desperate need of support. Thus, Seedorf's charity helped the government build the sports centre, which over 400 children utilize on a daily basis. Seedorf's vision of "improving the quality of life through health and education" is clearly one of substance.

Finally, Seedorf invested €80,000 in the construction of 'The Clarence Seedorf Playground' in Stedenwijk, Holland, where he grew up. This is a poor area and the playground - 6,400 sq. mt. long - aims to support the development of young people by teaching them life skills and values through sport.
“I not only want this playground to be a facility where kids can play sports but, also want it to be a place where kids develop their social and emotional skills” -Clarence Seedorf

Clarence Seedorf is now a free agent having left AC Milan, and if that marks the end of his remarkable playing career then I sincerely hope to see him move into management or coaching - there aren't many better role models.

It's players like him who ensure that football, engulfed by corruption and avarice, still has the power to change lives, as Mandela once said.

Thanks for reading the first article of this series and leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

'Til next time - RL (@rlewisafc)