Former Bafana Bafana idol and 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ ambassador Theophilus ‘Doctor' Khumalo was in Argentina last month to visit the charity organisation Granja Andar, which will be represented at the Football for Hope Festival to be held next year in South Africa. The stylish former midfielder received a warm welcome from the children at the centre, who were then treated to a special football clinic from the man himself.
Khumalo's visit to the Granja Andar, which provides support for handicapped children, marked the starting point of his mission to spread the word about next year's Football For Hope Festival, which will bring together 32 teams from across the globe. The Argentinian charity will be represented at the event by a mixed team made up of players from the country's Liga de Fútbol Especial and the National Street Football Network.
Mindful of football's power as a vehicle for social change, as a phenomenon that brings both young and old together and as a key factor in developing essential human values, the ex-player and coach had also made the journey to find out more about the work being carried out by the charity.
"The Andar programme is something that touches my heart," he said on meeting up with the youngsters staying at the centre. "It moves me because it doesn't matter whether you have a disability or not; there's a common goal here and that's something people share from the bottom of their hearts.
Khumalo also took the opportunity to send out a message of solidarity. "Programmes like this are our way of telling all the people that live on this world that we have to give and share."
After the speeches and a tour of the centre's facilities it was time for the players of the Liga de Fútbol Especial and the National Street Football Network to pull on their kit in preparation for a special soccer clinic with the Doctor.
Putting his young Argentinian pupils through their paces on an artificial five-a-side pitch, the former South Africa international passed on the benefit of his knowledge and experience. That advice could well come in handy for some of the players, who are hoping to form part of the Argentina team that will take part in the Football For Hope Festival. And when the class was over, the youngsters lined up to have their photo taken with the amiable footballing ambassador.
"They are thrilled about the activities that Khumalo has shown them. I'm pretty sure they do them every day with our teachers but for them it's an exciting experience to have someone from another country and speaking a different language come and visit them," explained Juan Rivas, the coordinator of the Liga de Fútbol Especial.
"We have been working on this project for 12 years now," he continued, "and we've kept it going thanks to organisation, quality and a beautiful appreciation of the needs of people with disabilities, giving them the opportunities and the facilities they deserve so they can live their lives."
Raul Lucero, the legal representative of the Granja Andar and the founder of the Liga de Fútbol Especial, was thrilled to see the boys and girls enjoying the occasion. "Khumalo is such a humble person," he said. "He's made sure the youngsters are the central characters of this story, which has now become a global dream. They only played once a year in a tournament against other schools but it's great to see them here enjoying their football with a passion."
For all their hard work and desire to bring about change through football, the centre and its people deserved nothing less than a visit from the one and only Doctor Khumalo.