AP Exclusive: Beckham visits abused kids in Manila

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MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) - Away from fans’ prying eyes, David Beckham took time out from soccer to share his experiences and listen to Filipino children struggling to rebuild their broken lives.

“It’s so important to have a dream,” Beckham told the former street children Friday at a UNICEF-supported shelter in a suburb of Manila, the Philippine capital where he and his teammates from the Los Angeles Galaxy are playing an exhibition against the country’s national team this weekend.

On the sidelines of the Galaxy’s Manila trip, Beckham, who is also a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, visited the shelter for children who have been rescued from the streets. They shared tales of domestic abuse and crime _ some fell victim to drugs or were abandoned by their parents.

Wearing a black UNICEF T-shirt, the 36-year-old former England captain listened intently in a private conversation with a group of five children and told them how he started playing when he was 7 years old and eventually achieving his dream of playing for Manchester United.

UNICEF asked that the names of the children and the shelter not be disclosed to protect their privacy.

Conan, a 17-year-old who was abandoned by his parents when he was 7, told Beckham that he dreams of joining the Philippine team and later becoming a coach.

He played in the Street Children’s Football World Cup last year in South Africa, where the Philippines beat South Africa 2-1.

The younger children were awe-struck while listening to one of the world’s best known athletes.

One 12-year-old girl named Shaina said she wants to be a nurse to help the sick. She often held Beckham’s hand as she and the other children guided him around the facility, unfazed by the tattoos that adorn his arms.

Beckham told the UNICEF staff it was incredible that the children had gone through “so much in such a short space of time in their young lives” and learned responsibility and respect.

He said he was lucky to have had the support of both his parents and it was “so sad to see so many children that don’t have that support, don’t have that love.”

He later listened to JM, a former drug user who turned 18 on Friday, sing a rap song in the Filipino language on how drugs ruin lives. After a staff translated the song for Beckham, he gave him a double thumbs up, saying, “You’re good!”

The shelter that houses 136 kids has a small soccer field surrounded by separate cottages for boys and girls, a school, a basketball court and a training facility where children learn to sew clothes and cut hair.

Beckham posed with the children for a picture wearing a blue graduation gown and cap made at the sewing room, where he also tried his hand at making a pillow case.

“What struck me the most about coming into the center was it was a real happy place, a real inspiring place,” he told The Associated Press. “They are teaching kids unbelievable values. Every child I spoke to today _ they all have dreams, they all have inspirations.”

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