Goal of a Lifetime: David Beckham Kicks Up Support for Children in Swaziland

This summer, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham travelled to Swaziland. Known for its wilderness reserves, it’s not the safaris that brought the soccer superstar to this small, landlocked country in Southern Africa. It’s the high HIV prevalence rate – the highest in the world, in fact.

To mark his tenth anniversary as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, David Beckham teamed up with UNICEF last year to launch 7: The David Beckham UNICEF Fund, with a mission to save and change the lives of vulnerable children around the world. In that role, he regularly visits the countries where his Fund is making a difference.

In Swaziland, David Beckham met with mothers and children living with HIV in some of the poorest households of Lubombo and Shiselweni, and saw first-hand how his Fund is helping to support and protect HIV-positive children.

“Last year I launched my own Fund with UNICEF because I wanted to help build a safer world for children. I feel very proud to be in Swaziland to see how the money raised through the 7 Fund is helping to keep vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS healthy and safe,” Beckham said during his visit.

“Many of the children I met, some of whom were the same age as my own children, had lost one or both parents to AIDS and are themselves now living with HIV. As a father of four, it was hard to hear their stories about the daily challenges they face, which are now being made so much worse by this devastating drought.”

In Swaziland, more than 200,000 people are estimated to be currently living with HIV, including around 10,000 children under the age of 14. There are also more than 40,000 children under 17 years old who are orphaned due to AIDS.

That is why the 7 Fund is committed to contributing 27 per cent of UNICEF Swaziland’s annual budget for HIV and AIDS over the next three years. UNICEF works to ensure that all children and their mothers have access to life-saving HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

“We have made much progress over the past few years in reducing HIV transmission rates and increasing the number of people who have access to life-saving antiretroviral medicines, but AIDS continues to pose a threat to millions around the world,” says David Morley, UNICEF Canada President and CEO. “We need more people like David Beckham to use their platform and voice to highlight the challenges faced by the world’s most vulnerable children and communities and throw their support behind supporting the world’s children. With David’s support, we are that much closer to ending the HIV and AIDS epidemic once and for all.”

The HIV and AIDS crisis, however, is just one piece of the development puzzle in Swaziland. The situation facing children there, as throughout much of the region, is becoming increasingly dire as the full impact of El Niño becomes clear.

“Children who are already incredibly vulnerable because of HIV are now at risk from a new crisis that could have a devastating impact on their lives,” Beckham said. “Across Eastern and Southern Africa millions of children are at risk from hunger, water shortages and disease.”

This most recent El Niño event was one of the strongest in recorded history. It generated the highest global temperatures in more than 130 years, forced thousands from their homes, destroyed crops, affected water supplies and continues to leave millions at risk of malnutrition. The countries and children most affected were already among some of the world’s poorest.

“Countries like Swaziland, which are by now under tremendous resource strain, have reached their limits,” says Morley. “With the risk of La Niña bringing heavy rains and drought in the very near future, the consequences for these already struggling communities could be disastrous.”

In Makhewu, David Beckham met Sebenele, a 14-year-old boy who struggled to remember when it last rained in his home town, which has been ravaged by drought. “A long time,” he said.

UNICEF is working with governments and partners across the region to reduce the impact of drought and flooding, and provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, but it requires $219 million to meet the needs in 2016. So far, current levels of aid are not keeping up with the needs.

This year, 31.6 million people, including 16 million children will require food assistance across Southern Africa, and 19.5 million, including 10.5 million children, in Eastern Africa. More than one million children across the region are being targeted by UNICEF for severe acute malnutrition treatment.

“I am speaking out for these children to make sure they are not forgotten at a time when they desperately need our help,” Beckham said. “I am urging the global community to do all it can to help UNICEF deliver the life-saving food, medicine and clean water that these children so desperately need.”

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