The soccer star often visits sick children in hospitals and heads a philanthropic foundation.
By Walter Raymond
"One day, after a visit to a hospital, I understood the particular dimension of a public figure. I understood that for these sick children, the presence of a famous soccer player could be very helpful. You show up, and they greet you and smile, and for them, it is a particular joy because they have renewed energies to keep fighting because they believe they will be able to overcome their diseases and pursue their dreams."
That experience encouraged Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini, known worldwide as Leo Messi and rated by many as the best soccer player in history, to create in 2007 the Leo Messi Foundation. The organization is dedicated to charitable activities and social commitment in Argentina and around the world.
Health, Education, and Sports
The three pillars of the Leo Messi Foundation aim to provide practical solutions to problems related to health and education, in addition to exciting sports as an element of personal growth.
The activities are very diverse, from isolated cases like the donation of a motorized wheelchair in Rosario (his hometown), to larger projects such as the reconstruction and equipping of the Hogar Convivencial, a children’s home in Buenos Aires, the construction of 14 Health Centers in Nepal or the provision of drinking water to Aboriginal communities in Argentina.
The Foundation has the support of UNICEF, the FC Barcelona Foundation, and several major companies. The support it receives from communities or institutions in precarious or difficult situations goes beyond material contributions. Messi himself, alone or with other famous athletes, visit hospitals and health centers, bringing hugs, smiles and encouraging words to those struggling to cling to life.
A remarkable fortitude to overcome difficulties
Facing difficulties with work and effort has been a constant in Messi’s life. He spent his childhood in a humble neighborhood and—at an early age—was hit by a diagnosis that threatened to end his fledgling career.
Born on June 24, 1987, in the city of Rosario, 400 kilometers from Buenos Aires, he is the son of Jorge Horacio Messi, then a factory worker, and Celia María Cuccittini, who worked part-time cleaning homes. His natural ability to play soccer helped him to join a team when he was only five years old. Then, at 11, when his excellent performance on the court augured him a brilliant career, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency, which could have left out of the field.
After a time of confusion and pain, at the age 12, he was summoned by the renowned Soccer Club Barcelona of Spain, which took over the expensive treatment. From there, he started an incredible career, winning all the titles with his club and breaking world records. Moreover, playing with the Argentinian national team, he won the U-20 World in 2005 and the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
At 29, Messi is an exemplary athlete and individual. He is also a great inspiration for young people and children around the world who see him as a role model for his humility, his behavior on and off the court, his image of a great man, a good husband, and a devoted father. ■
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