On a dusty sports field in Alexandra township in South Africa, more than a hundred excited children laugh and shout as they kick around footballs, sing, and play games that teach them about the dangers of Aids.The boys and girls, ranging from toddlers to teenagers, belong to one of the many projects all over the world that are using the huge power of football to help underprivileged children overcome social problems.
Football's ruling body will use next year's World Cup for the first time to promote these projects through a "Football for Hope" festival running alongside the football extravaganza, which attracts the world's biggest cumulative television audience.
FIFA has combined with the global NGO streetfootballworld to create Football for Hope and the kids in the sprawling Johannesburg township of Alexandra belong to one of its members, Play Soccer, which trains hundreds of children twice a week.
The Football for Hope festival will take place in the second half of the month-long World Cup, which starts next June 11, in a 3 000-seat stadium yet to be built next to this sports field.
Some 32 organisations from around the world - the same number of nations as in the World Cup - have been chosen to take part, based not on their football pedigree, but on the success of projects to address social issues like homelessness in London, landmines in Cambodia, gang violence in Colombia and South Africa's scourge of Aids.
"The idea is we show the power of soccer to achieve social change, while the eyes of the world are on South Africa," said Football for Hope Communications Manager Mike Geddes to SuperSport.
Goal.com spoke to children in Alexandra, who stand to benefit from this initiative. Thirteen-year-old Rodney said, "I feel very lucky to get this attention and to train like this. I love soccer and it is my dream to play for (Orlando) Pirates. I want to be like Teko Modise."
Simphiwe is ten years old, and he agreed with Rodney, having this to say: "The World Cup is coming next year, and I want to support the players by playing and training to be good like them. I love playing with my friends and like this we are learning while we play, so our parents are happy."
Once again the power of football to unite and educate comes through, and the host nation of next year's event is certainly making the most of the sport, by developing the youth as footballers and people.
Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com