Beckham who? Soccer star visits Tacloban
TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—Some of the children didn’t know who he was—except that he must be some international superstar. And so they serenaded him with Filipino songs.
Soccer star David Beckham on Thursday met two groups of children and their families at the Tacloban City Convention Center where they had been staying after surviving Super Typhoon “Yolanda”—and he gave them joy.
“He just kept on smiling when we were giving him a massage on his back,” said Jade Maceda, a 13-year-old boy who was among the 600 lucky children who met the retired football icon during his visit.
The boy, however, admitted he had no idea who Beckham was, didn’t know he was one of the most familiar faces in the world and one of the most popular soccer players.
Beckham visited Tacloban to give comfort to survivors of the country’s deadliest typhoon ever.
Hundreds of survivors rushed out of their tent shelters to welcome a global celebrity visiting a country where basketball—not soccer—is king.
Beckham exchanged high-fives and posed for pictures with children inside a large white tent used as a classroom. Some showed him their artworks.
He removed his shoes upon entering a tent where a member of one family was stroking a sleeping infant’s hands as he spoke with them.
Flowers for Beckham
The 38-year-old Beckham arrived amid tight security provided by police and burly white men apparently hired by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), of which he is one of its ambassadors of goodwill.
Upon disembarking from a Unicef vehicle, Beckham was mobbed by the evacuees, media and kibitzers, but he immediately proceeded to one of two tents at the center, where 300 children were waiting for him.
Media people were barred from entering the tents.
Inside a huge, white tent, Beckham sat in a corner while the children entertained him with songs, such as “Ako Ay Pilipino.”
They also presented Beckham with flowers fashioned out of colored paper.
Those left outside heard singing, clapping and shouts of joy from the children and personnel of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Former Spice Girl
In one tent, Beckham talked with the mothers, including Ernalyn Malquisto, 33, mother of month-old baby Jose Carlo.
According to Malquisto, Beckham, who also played with the babies, asked the mothers how they were doing and about their experiences living inside a tent.
She said she and five other mothers asked for Beckham’s autograph and to have a picture taken with him. He gamely acceded.
“He’s so handsome. I heard he plays for the Azkals,” mother-of-four Darilyn Bascug gushed, referring to the Philippine national football team.
Bascug, a carpenter’s wife, said she did not really know Beckham that well. Neither had she heard of his wife, Victoria, formerly of the Spice Girls.
Up close and personal
Keith Sacramento, a 27-year-old soccer player who also teaches the sport at Bethel International School, said he was happy to see his idol.
“I only see him on television. But now, I was able to see him up close and personal,” said Sacramento, a Tacloban resident.
Gydel Merin, 10, said she was among those who gave Beckham flowers that she and the other children had made. “He accepted it with a smile,” she said.
Merin also showed the Inquirer Beckham’s own version of the heart he made out of green-colored paper.
She said Beckham also drew Mickey Mouse on a bond paper.
‘Is he a celebrity?’
Shortly after Beckham’s arrival, one woman approached a reporter and asked timidly: “Is that man a celebrity?”
Beckham stayed in the first tent for almost 30 minutes before visiting another tent where there were also 300 children.
Beckham was the latest among high-profile international personalities to have visited Tacloban, considered the ground zero of Yolanda.
Beckham’s visit followed separate trips to Tacloban in December last year by teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop.
A Unicef official said the visit of Beckham was meant to provide joy to the children, particularly those still reeling from the effects of Yolanda.
Beckham’s visit would also enable him to know what Unicef had been doing to help the victims cope with the tragedy, he said.
A source told the Inquirer that Beckham would stay in Tacloban overnight before visiting Tanauan, another town badly hit by the typhoon, on Friday.
Beckham, who ended his illustrious career last year, was on his second visit to the Philippines in his role as a “goodwill ambassador” for Unicef.
Beckham spent over an hour inside a Unicef tent set up as a nursery, where he played with dozens of young typhoon survivors.
The father of four stopped to greet babies and children staying in a shanty home made of scrap corrugated iron and wood.
“Very happy, very happy to visit everybody,” Beckham told reporters.
“Oh my God,” a young woman screamed as she reached out to grab his hand.
The tattooed Beckham was casually dressed in a black Unicef T-shirt.
Touched by tragedy
Beckham flew by private plane to Tacloban, one of the areas worst-hit by Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), which left about 8,000 people dead or missing across the central Philippines last November.
It also left more than 4 million people homeless as it tore up 171 towns and cities, with winds of up to 315 kilometers an hour.
Beckham last visited the Philippines in December 2011 and played with the Los Angeles Galaxy in an exhibition against the Philippine Azkals.
He also toured a shelter for former street children in Manila during his first visit.
Zafrin Chowdhury, spokesperson for the Unicef office in Manila, said Beckham was touched by the typhoon’s impact and wanted to meet displaced children and their families.
“He felt very touched by what happened and that he wanted to come back, not do anything else—no meeting, no media—just to focus on children and meet them, encourage them and see for himself the situation,” Chowdhury said.
Played with artistry
Beckham also was scheduled to visit a warehouse of the World Food Program in nearby Palo town, which was also heavily devastated.
The retired football icon and his wife had donated some of their best designer clothes and shoes to raise funds for the typhoon victims.
Local businessman Ramil Sumapig, 42, told Agence France-Presse that he watched Beckham on cable television play for European clubs Manchester United and later on Real Madrid.
“He played with artistry. He was able to bend the ball,” said Sumapig, who nevertheless said his three children were too young to see Beckham in his prime and idolized Argentina’s Lionel Messi instead.—With report from AP and AFP
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