More Than A Jersey: Messi and UNICEF Deliver Hope

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Once upon a time, there was a little boy in Iraq, who, as it turned out, was in Afghanistan.

When his photograph first appeared on the Internet, nobody knew where he was. Or who he was, though somebody thought he was a kid in Iraq. All they knew for sure was that he was wearing a blue-and-white plastic bag upon which somebody had written “Messi” and “10.”

Messi is Lionel Messi, who plays soccer brilliantly for Argentina and for F.C. Barcelona, well enough to be my favorite player. Anyway, as it turned out, the plastic bag shirt had been made by the little boy’s older brother, who was tired of hearing Murtaza Ahmadi – because that is the little boy’s name - cry about not having a Messi shirt with Messi's number. The plastic bag shirt worked. Murtaza put it on, stopped crying, and went out to kick around a soccer ball.

Eventually, Murtaza was identified as a member of an Afghani family living in an area remote enough so that acquiring an actual Messi shirt was impossible, even if they’d had the extra money to buy it.

But somebody got the photograph of the little boy to Leo Messi, and somebody got it to UNICEF, the international aid agency for which Messi is an ambassador, and with which his Barcelona team has a relationship. They donate €2 million to UNICEF.

And now the kid has a couple of signed Messi shirts. So do the members of his family. And when the package with the shirts reached them, it also contained a soccer ball and an invitation to come to Barcelona to meet Messi and his teammates.

And Murtaza’s father, given the opportunity to be interviewed, said his dream is to see a soccer field in the neighborhood, and maybe that will happen, too.

So once upon a time there was a story with a happy ending for Murtaza Ahmadi, the little soccer player in Afghanistan.

And it’s a story that comes with postscript. UNICEF, delighted to help in the effort to make Murtaza a happier kid, wants to remind everybody who hears the story with the happy ending that 43 million children worldwide are trapped in emergencies of one form or another.

The opportunity to help some of them toward happier endings is upon us all.

This segment aired on February 27, 2016.


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Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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