A goal for peace: French football legend visits occupied Palestinian territory

11 April 2011

11 April 2011
Ramallah

French football star Lilian Thuram today visited the occupied Palestinian territory in support of the education programme funded by France through the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Touring the Kalandia refugee camp in the West Bank, Lilian saw first hand the realities of life for Palestinian children under Israeli occupation, before dropping in to the local UNRWA school to referee a football match between some of the camp’s young players.

With hundreds of young students gathered in the school before kickoff, Thuram spontaneously joined in with a traditional dabke dance, drawing a massive round of applause.

A delighted Thuram said the visit was about his own education as well as having fun with Palestinian children. “I have heard so much about the children of Palestine and about the environment they grow up in. Today I saw for myself their enthusiasm and determination to succeed against all the odds.

“I just hope they enjoyed our training session today as much as I did.”

Lilian Thuram made sporting history by becoming the most capped player in the history of the French national squad. He also played for top European clubs Barcelona and Juventus. Off the pitch, he has dedicated much of his time and energy to the promotion of human rights and education against racism.

French Consul General, Frederic Desagneaux, said the visit put the spotlight on France’s long-standing support for UNRWA and its human development work. “UNRWA has a long association with the Palestinian people and my government is proud to have worked so closely with UNRWA for so many years.

“Bringing Lilian here is a real joy for us, sharing with Palestinians the sorts of sporting and human development they can also achieve.”

Through its contributions to UNRWA’s regular budget, France supports education to some half a million children in the Agency’s five fields of operation (Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank). UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy to some of the most disadvantaged people in the Middle East. Last year alone France’s contribution to UNRWA stood at nearly US$ 10 million, US$ 6 million of which supported the Agency’s main programmes.

“Lilian is a living football history,” said UNRWA spokesman, Chris Gunness. “It is brilliant that UNRWA school kids had an opportunity to be coached by him today, and witness his extraordinary skills first hand. Lilian is just the sort of role model our students should be inspired by, and we are very grateful to the Palestinian Football Federation and the French government for facilitating his visit.

“At this time of turmoil, the stabilising influence of UNRWA’s human development work with some of the most marginalised communities in the region has never been so important,” Gunness said.

Background Information

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, and financial support has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees and deepening poverty. As a result, the UNRWA General Fund, which supports core essential services and most staffing costs, operates with a large deficit. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large deficits, are funded through separate funding portals. 

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

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