The late great Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination”.

Keeping the spirit of this message in mind, the Karachi United Football Foundation (KUFF) has been making a difference to the lives of children from under-privileged families. The idea is to shape this youth talent into the leaders of tomorrow, by training them in the sport of football as well as provide them with vocational and health training.

The noble initiative is the brainchild of Football Excellence Expert Ali Rizki and KUFF CEO Imran Ali. The foundation has targeted the underdeveloped areas and slums of Karachi to protect children from crime and other downward spiraling habits. KUFF currently has six Centers of Excellence in each region of Karachi: Lyari, Malir, Korangi, North Karachi, North Nazimabad and Old Golimar.

The suburb of Lyari is well-known as a hotbed of crime and violence in the city, often drawing comparisons to the favelas of Brazil. Surprisingly however, the suburb also boasts a great football-loving population. Historically, this area has been known to produce players that went on to play for the Pakistani national football team.

The Centers for Excellence serve to promote their vision of changing lives through football. The reason football is an excellent medium is because of its emphasis on teamwork and on having each other’s ‘back’ in tough situations. A lot of life lessons can be learned on the pitch. It also inculcates leadership and communication skills. The best part about the sport is that it only requires a ball and a big enough space to move around in.

The Foundation equips youngsters aged 10 to 14 with proper kits and training from highly-qualified coaches like Head Coach Mr. Arshad Jamal, a former professional footballer for the Pakistan national team. Families get involved to ensure children get the best care at home and that parents are up-to-date with the benefits of proper nutrition. The foundation also takes care of the educational needs of particularly promising students. The aim is to make the center a safe-haven for children to come to after school, and train in a positive atmosphere.

These youngsters have lot of potential. More surprisingly, the academy trainees of Karachi United have been impressed by the talent at the feet of these Lyari dynamos. Some of these children dream of being the next Cristiano Ronaldo… With a little love and a bit of effort, we may just see the seeds of tomorrow’s stars planted right here, right now in Karachi.