Charlize's Championship Play for Poverty

Actress building soccer fields, supplying uniforms to children in South Africa

Charlize Theron has big plans for the World Cup.

The Academy Award winner's Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project is teaming up with LAFC Chelsea Soccer Club in Los Angeles to build community football programs for underprivileged children in South Africa. In addition to football fields, uniforms and equipment, kids involved in the program will receive health education and services.

The project will serve schools in South Africa's Umkhanyakude District, an area plagued by a high rate of HIV infection. She hopes to have the first fields built by the time the World Cup begins June 11.

"The World Cup is a huge, huge thing for South Africans and for Africa. The pride Africans have of hosting this is tremendous," Theron told The Associated Press. "The question is, how do we generate that into other areas and have more of an impact?"

Theron and LAFC are kicking off their collaboration with Tuesday's friendly game between Chelsea and Inter Milan at the Rose Bowl.

Net proceeds from the match will benefit the program.

Business mogul Don Sheppard started the Los Angeles Futbol Club four years ago after growing concerned that the cost of playing organized football was shutting talented kids out of the game. Kids at LAFC Chelsea play regardless of their financial means. The club provides coaching and help with schoolwork.

As LAFC grew, Sheppard began looking for ways he expand the effort overseas. An orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, now has a football field. He sent balls to kids in Rwanda.

"The issue isn't the game, but what comes with it. It's called discipline, hard work, commitment, values, access to education, access to the right messages, access to role models," Sheppard said.

Theron's Africa Outreach Project, meanwhile, has helped bring mobile health units to rural Umkhanyakude, about 200 miles northeast of Durban.

Children in the district have an almost 50 percent chance of being infected with HIV in their lifetime and health services are limited, at best. With the mobile clinics, high schoolers have monthly access to nurses and counselors, education classes designed to prevent HIV and programs that teach basic computer skills.

There are now three mobile clinics in the district, serving 10,000 students.

"When you give just a few of these normal things we have at our beck and call every day to a community, they want to take that knowledge and make it their own," said Theron, a native of South Africa.

Sheppard and Lorrie Fair, a member of the U.S. women's team that won the 1999 World Cup, will travel to Africa next month to meet with local leaders and scout out possible locations for the field.

"The World Cup is literally just a start," Sheppard said. In five years, "what I'm hoping is there will be a sustainable program run by locals that will just keep building on itself."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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