UNHCR's ninemillion.org campaign reaches global audience

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, are lending their support to an innovative campaign by UNHCR and its corporate partners. The project aims to help nine million children realise their dreams by improving their lives through education and sport.

A nine-year-old Sudanese refugee looks down from a billboard on the busy corner of New York's 7th Avenue and 34th street. The image is part of UNHCR's internet-based ninemillion.org campaign to bring education and sport opportunities to uprooted children around the world.   © Nike

GENEVA, July 5 (UNHCR) - The image on the billboard looming over the busy corner of New York's 7th Avenue and 34th street last week was startling and unusual. It was not plugging a company or a product, but simply depicted a barefoot boy with a soccer ball and the slogan: "ninemillion.org."

The giant photo of nine-year-old Steven Makong, a Sudanese refugee in Uganda, was part of a new year-long internet-based campaign by the UN refugee agency and its corporate partners to improve the lives of children in refugee camps through education and sports. Nine million refers to the number of uprooted children in the world.

"UNHCR's ninemillion.org campaign shows what the corporate world and the humanitarian community can do when they work together. It aims to bring countless refugee children hope for a better future through education and play," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said as he marked the campaign launch.

Since the campaign was launched on World Refugee Day (June 20), the ninemillion.org website - hosted and supported by MSN - has received more than 300,000 visitors. So far, almost 700 donations worth a total US$46,000 have been made through the site.

One of the most innovative aspects of ninemillion.org is that it aims to create a global community dedicated to giving the world's refugee youth the chance to learn and play. Members are linked through the ninemillion.org website, which explains the background and objectives of the campaign.

The website also features photo galleries, stories and short films about young refugees in Azerbaijan, Uganda and Thailand who share similar experiences, hopes, ambitions and a passion for soccer.

A key feature of the campaign is the distinctive green and yellow soccer balls developed by Nike to withstand the tough conditions found in most refugee camps. Forty thousand of these special balls have been produced using recycled materials and will be distributed to refugee children around the world. T-shirts featuring the ninemillion.org logo will be available for purchase at selected Nike retail outlets worldwide, with net proceeds supporting the campaign.

The Refugee All Stars, an award-winning group of Sierra Leonean musicians, are supporting the ninemillion.org campaign. The band, whose members got together when they were refugees in Guinea, has been enthralling audiences around the world with their engaging West African rhythms. They will spread the campaign's messages as they tour through Europe, North America, Australia and Japan.

Ninemillion.org has been enthusiastically supported by Nike and Microsoft, both members of UNHCR's Council of Business Leaders, as well as Manpower and Merck. Toronto-based international humanitarian organisation Right To Play, which promotes the development of refugee children through play and sports, is the campaign's main implementing partner.

Two-thirds of the money raised will be used for education projects in refugee camps, benefiting girls in particular. The remaining third will fund sport and play programmes by Right to Play for refugee youth, with an emphasis on getting girls and young women onto playing fields.