Michael Schumacher : UNESCO Champion for SportParis - German Formula One racing driver Michael Schumacher has been named a UNESCO Champion for Sport. At a ceremony at UNESCO's Headquarters on April 15 to mark his nomination, Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura paid tribute Schumacher's role in "the promotionof sport, his contribution to UNESCO's educational action in favour of young people all over the world, and his dedication to the Organization's ideals."
The four-time world champion (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001), who has headed the Ferrari team since 1996, has put his sport to work for children in distress since 1995. Then named "UNESCO Special Envoy for Education and Sports", Schumacher donated to UNESCO the250,000 DM (127,822 Euros) he received from the magazine Bunte for exclusive photo coverage of his wedding.
Other donations from the F1 driver paid for the construction of a school in Dakar (Senegal) and improvements to the "Baraka" slum in the city, carried out under a joint project between UNESCO and ENDA Third World, a non-governmental organization. In 1997, he supported the opening of a clinic for child victims of war in Sarajevo. This clinic works especially with children who have suffered amputations, providing them with artificial limbs and psychological support. This year, he funded a "Palace for the Poor" in Lima (Peru). This centre helps street children, providing them with a roof, meals, medical treatment and pre-school education.
Why have you chosen to help children and young people?
Because I don't think they have as many chances as an adult who has had some education and knows how to cope with the world. They're so young, so small; they have no experience and can't handle things all by themselves.
Have you been especially shocked by the plight of some children?
I've always loved kids, even before I had my own. They're very special. They're so vulnerable and they've got their whole lives ahead of them. If you put them on the righttrack, everyone will benefit. But if they take the wrong road, if they don't have any opportunities, they'll have a difficult life and cause trouble for everyone around them. The problems some adults have come mostly from their childhood, because they haven't been brought up properly and don't have much self-confidence later.
Does sport help?
I think you can do many things through sport. Kids love to play - football, anything. Sport lets them have a good time and also gives them an aim, a chance to respond to challenges, to win, to achieve something.
When did you first have the idea of helping children?
It was long before I took up Formula One racing. When I was driving in Formula Three, I was in a couple of races, in Macau (Hong Kong) and Fuji (Japan). The winner of both would scoop UK £20,000 (32,560 Euros). I got lucky. Nobody could believe it. It was then I realised I could help people. I'd never had money before. From the time I started earning more money than I ever dreamt of, I felt the need to help children. You either feel that or you don't at such times.
How did you come into contact with UNESCO and why did you decide to work with the Organization?
I'd been looking for a way to help people since 1990. The contact came through Mrs Ute-Henriette Ohoven, UNESCO's Goodwill Ambassador for the Education of "Children in Need." The idea was to take part in a UNESCO project, to work together. I was delighted, and especially by the general idea of UNESCO - of creating conditions to give people a future and help them to be self-sufficient.
You donated 1.5 million Euros for projects in Senegal, Sarajevo and Peru. Why these countries?
UNESCO presented me with these situations that it knew well. The projects looked good.
Have you donatedmoney to other institutions that help children?
I give a bit here and there for small projects, but the main ones are those that have developed with UNESCO. I think it's good to be consistent.
Does consistency inspire confidence?
Yes, of course. First of all I feel it in myself and then in others who commit themselves to projects because I'm involved in them. I can't pay for everything. I sign up for various efforts for a while and this attracts other donors to help out. People are encouraged to give when they know it goes to UNESCO projects. They're confident the money will be used well.
Have you visited the projects you've funded - the school in Senegal, the clinic in Sarajevo and the centre for street children in Peru?
I've been to Sarajevo, but not yet to Senegal and Peru, where the project has only just started. I have a hectic life, so it's not always easy to fit everything in.
Do you have a favourite kind of project?
I really want to help the ones people don't know about. Nowadays, certain projects attract lots of donors. Then there are others you never hear about. Those are the ones I'm interested in.