Rags to Riches…It’s now time to give back!

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” – Helen Keller

Football is not just a game to me. I look up to the actors / protagonists of the movie named ‘Football’ i.e. the footballers themselves for inspiration when I feel down and pessimistic. They often provide me with the much needed courage and hope in my journey to achieve excellence in Knowledge Management.

But who are these actors in real life? Well, they are very successful professionals, idolised by people of all ages and who often are often categorised via the somewhat clichéd phrase ‘big boys with big cars.’ But is there anything that contradicts this stereotyped perspective. I tried to find an answer and did a bit of research on some of the footballers I idolise myself. The footballers I have chosen came from modest backgrounds and have one thing in common. They are from Africa and all of them have enthralled us with their sublime skills.

I will start with Nwankwo Kanu (a.k.a Papilo). The former Arsenal, Ajax and Inter Milan star had to undergo a heart surgery in 1996 and did not return to the football field till 1997. He came back with a bang and became a huge favourite for Arsenal fans. I still remember his breathtaking hatrick in 15 minutes against Chelsea in the 1999-2000 season when his side was down 0-2. It was painful for us, Chelsea fans, but anyone who loves football would have appreciated the sheer brilliance that was on display that night.

In 2000, the Kanu Heart Foundation was born with the aim of bringing back smiles on the faces of Africa’s children and young adults who suffer from various heart related diseases. The mission statement of the charity states ‘The goodwill generated by those who donate for these life threatening open – heart surgeries cannot be over emphasized as we owe gratitude to the Almighty God, the teaming Nigerians, Africans and Europeans, corporate bodies, government and various Agencies that have identified with this humanitarian venture of saving lives’. The Foundation has facilitated more than 400 heart surgeries at a success rate of 98.5%. In the world of football, often dominated by news of big ticket transfers and astronomical weekly wages, the Kanu Heart Foundation shines brightly with its simple message of saving lives and making a difference. You can find more about the Foundation at http://www.kanuheartfoundationng.com/index.php

 Next in line is Michael Essien, one of my all time favourites. I consider myself to be very lucky to have seen him play a couple of times. Michael, a true hero for us, the Chelsea fans, grew up in Awutu Breku in Ghana. The place, typical of many regions in the developing world offered little scope and opportunities to people like Michael achieve their full potential. He chose football as the vehicle to express himself and for the rest you may speak to a Chelsea fan!

 The Michael Essien Foundation was created to provide opportunities for the people of the region where he grew up. More importantly it is perceived as an initiative that offers hope and inspiration for the underprivileged to dream on. The Foundation aims to improve the access to basic amenities like:

  • Good quality drinking water
  • More public toilets (plug the gap as most homes in the region do not have individual toilets)
  • Improving the skills of women (programme run as a tribute to Michael’s mum)
  • Local clinic (with the aim to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals for Ghana)
  • Public library for school kids (to serve 15 villages across the region)

To know more about Michael, who is happily reunited with his ‘Papa’ in Spain (hopefully both of them would be back with Chelsea soon) and his Foundation, please visit http://www.michaelessiengh.com/foundation/aim-objective-5year-plan.html

“We had two stones for goalposts and played four against four. Sometimes something sharp would cut your feet, but we played through our wounds, didn’t even think about them. We just loved to play.” This is probably a statement, a lot of African football stars can relate to. However, in this case it refers to John Utaka, who played for Portsmouth and currently is with Montpellier. Utaka who became a cult figure during his stint with his club team Ismaily in Egypt (where fans used to chant ‘Oh Oh Oh Utaka, Oh Oh Oh Utaka’) started the ‘John Utaka’ Foundation with the objective of helping disadvantaged children and youth fulfill their dreams and ambitions.

 Some of the specific activities carried out by the foundation include:

  • Providing medical services for the disabled children
  • Allow children to express themselves through games like football, basket ball, table tennis by setting up sports facilities
  • Establish vocational centres to enable people for the communities to develop skills in areas like craft, carpentry, metal and wood works and tailoring
  • Train them to prepare for getting themselves a job

 To know more, please visit http://thejohnutakafoundation.net

And finally, it is time to salute someone who to me appears as an enigma, a larger than life character, unstoppable in front of the goal on his day and a true Chelsea legend. Yes, I am talking about someone special. He is………………..

Oh oh Didier Drogba,
Didier Drogba, we love you.

The Foundation created in 2007 strives to provide support to the health and education sectors in Africa. To kick start the Foundation, Drogba pumped in his personal funds. He also ensured that the profits from his book “Didier Drogba: The autobiography” and DVD “The Incredible Destiny of Didier Drogba” goes to the Foundation. Using its founder’s silky skills in charming one and all, the Foundation has raised more than £1 million from the three annual charity balls (last one held in March 2012).

The Foundation has been instrumental in building a hospital in Abidjan and aims to build schools across Ivory Coast in the days to come. You can catch more on the Foundation at http://www.thedidierdrogbafoundation.com/

There are many more inspiring stories and I would have loved to go on and on. However, the efforts of these 4 gifted footballers probably capture the essence. Let celebrate football and let’s make a difference by using the game as a conduit. Kudos to these fantastic players and individuals! Keep playing and continue to help all of us smile by being a role model both on and off the field.


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