PRINCE Harry is used to being the centre of attention, but last week it was Brazil’s poorest children who were in the spotlight whilst wearing shirts donated from Oxfordshire.
While he played games of football on a concrete pitch in Diadema near Sao Paulo, Harry may not have given much thought as to how one youngster got his hands on the distinctive United away shirt.
In fact they had been delivered just days before by Abingdon man and Oxford City coach Mark Heelis.
He took more than 600 football shirts donated by about 50 fans in England to ACER – the Association for Support of Children at Risk.
The 32-year-old, below with one of the shirts, said: “The charity does incredible work. The shirts made such a difference to the people this charity supports.
“These children live in very deprived conditions. These children don’t have anything, or very little, in the way of clothing.
“We’re bonding places like Oxford to this community in something they really value with the football shirts.”
Mr Heelis, who coaches Oxford City’s Casuals team, who have learning difficulties, said: “It was amazing. We were there about three days before Harry and then I see the kids wearing the shirts on global news. The kids loved the yellow shirts, including Oxford United, because yellow is the colour of Brazil so they go crazy over everything yellow.”
Mr Heelis, who works on water navigation for the Environment Agency, said the trip snowballed from his first venture to South Africa.
He said: “I went to South Africa at the last World Cup and took about five of my spare football shirts and they were so grateful.
“This time I was more organised and teamed up with Kits4Causes, who put me in touch with ACER.
“This went beyond my wildest expectations, I’m really proud. I was hoping to collect about 200 shirts and I have just been overwhelmed by the generosity.
Chris Grindley, director of Kits4Causes, which helps direct donated sports kits to worthy charities across the world, said: “Football is a universal language, and to be able to provide the kit is brilliant.”
Prince Harry was on a tour of Brazil during the World Cup.
He was told about the hardship and poverty the children faced and he said: “The bravery of them looking at me, smiling at me.
“I was completely overwhelmed and shocked. I’ve never blubbed in public as far as I can remember but I was pretty damn close. It was amazing to hear those stories.
“But the smiles on their faces show the positive impact their community is having on them and the success of Acer.”
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