Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Scot offers World Cup hope to HIV affected children

Samuel Mayer with children at World Cup match
Image caption Samuel Mayer with some of the children he has taken to the World Cup

A Scottish healthcare specialist is using the World Cup to offer hope to more than 1,000 South African children affected by HIV and Aids.

Samuel Mayer has helped hundreds of the country's poorest children to attend World Cup matches for free through the Grassroot Soccer project.

Mr Mayer, from Edinburgh, wears his trademark kilt to every game.

He said watching superstars such as Lionel Messi in the flesh was a "once in a lifetime" chance for the children.

The Grassroots Soccer programme is intended to use the sport to help children escape poverty in the football-mad continent, and to provide education on the risk of HIV.

Speaking from Bloemfontein, where he is currently based, he said the experience of going to a World Cup match was "an inspiration" for the children in his care.

He said: "The kids I'm looking after are from rural communities in the area. They are all affected by HIV - some may be infected and others may have family members who are infected. Others have been orphaned because of HIV and Aids.

"These are very poor communities, and the children don't have a lot of hope in their daily lives - but they are obsessed by football.

"They grow up loving football and play wherever they get the chance, sometimes in bare feet with a makeshift ball. They love players like Messi, Christiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba and look up to all the South African stars.

"To attend a World Cup match and see their idols in the flesh is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them and something that will live with them forever. More than that, it inspires them."

Grassroot Soccer was introduced in Zimbabwe in 2002, and has now expanded into 17 countries.

It was selected as of the humanitarian organisations which received free tickets for matches through the Sony World Cup Ticket Fund.

'Great ice-breaker'

Mr Mayer, who first worked with Grassroot Soccer as a teacher in Zimbabwe, said: "Grassroot Soccer's presence in South Africa has increased dramatically in the last year.

"The programme doesn't just come for a few weeks and then leave the children behind.

"Our football coaches are often leaders in the communities and some play for local teams so they are looked up to."

He has also ensured that the children know something about his home country - despite the fact Scotland failed to qualify for the greatest sporting spectacle on Earth.

He said: "The kids love my kilt - they take one look at it and shout 'Scotland, Scotland'. Some call me William Wallace, and one even pointed at my kilt and shouted 'Ally McCoist'. It's a great ice-breaker with the children."

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