The memory of David Beckham’s visit to Kur Kur village in the Papua New Guinean highlands will stay with the villagers forever, especially for young Noah. He was plucked out of the crowd by David during a football match, and was even given the job of taking the match winning penalty.
“I was really excited when Mr Beckham picked me!” said 6 year old Noah, surrounded by his friends. “I was really happy.”
UNICEF returned to the village to show the video of David’s visit. The villagers were so excited they watched the video eight times, with Noah and friends leading the calls for replays.
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David visited Papua New Guinea last November as part of his 7: Fund’s Match for Children initiative, where he played seven matches on every continent. The Fund is helping UNICEF deliver life-changing programmes for children across every region of the world, including those affected by malnutrition in Papua New Guinea.
“It was an amazing experience, no one knew what Kur Kur village was before,” said Willie Dupai, a local village counsellor, chuckling.
Life, says Willie, is hard in the village and everyone was happy David could shed some light on their day to day struggles. “Life can be tough here. We have a lot of droughts followed by floods which makes it hard to grow food. We can’t eat much and we earn very little.”
One child in 13 in Papua New Guinea dies before they reach their fifth birthday, with malnutrition the underlying cause for the majority of under-five deaths in the country. National statistics show that close to half of children in Papua New Guinea suffer from stunting.
The floods can present a particular danger to Kur Kur village. David famously walked across a bridge made of three trunks to enter the village but in the wet season this crossing can be treacherous.
“The water can get much higher, much stronger,” said Willie. “People have drowned crossing it. It’s hard to afford good materials but we’re slowly collecting timber for a new, better bridge. We will call it Beckham Bridge!”
Thanks to David’s visit, football – or soccer as it’s known in this part of the world – became a favourite sport for Noah and his friends. “We all played soccer after he left!” said Noah, smiling as all his friends nodded in agreement. “We all played together. I’m really happy.”
Life is Kur Kur village is not always easy but David Beckham’s visit has given the villagers an experience of a life time, and hope for a better future.
Story, photos and video by Simon Nazer