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US Soccer Team Takes Time Out for South African Kids

The U.S. National Soccer team took a break from their preparations for the Confederations Cup to meet with a large group of South African children affected by HIV/AIDS.

The Confederations Cup in South Africa has been cause for much celebration locally, and the sound of chanting fans can be heard at football matches around the country.

But these fans in particular are not the typical horn blowing, dancing supporters of South Africa 's national side. They are children, many of them orphaned when both their parents died of AIDS. Some of them HIV positive themselves.

And they are singing not for the Bafana Bafana, as the South African national team is known, but for the American team. The team, along with the U.S. embassy in South Africa, invited the kids as their special guests at a training session as it prepares for its first match of the tournament.

Andrew Passen, the Consul General of the American Consulate in South Africa, says the more than five hundred children who attended the practice belong to groups funded by the American embassy through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.

"We are very pleased that US soccer reached out to us and said how can we give something back to the community, and do some community outreach," he said. "We think it is great of the US soccer team to do this because they come here, and this is a working trip for them. They are here to compete and hopefully to win."

Passen says the PEPFAR initiative has a budget of nearly $600 million in bilateral aid for South Africa this year. Part of the funding is used to work with small community groups that support vulnerable children across the country, including a number of small organizations in the Pretoria community.

Christina Mphafudi represents the Celuki Development Project and Hospice.

"I am happy, too happy. I can not even express how happy I am," she said. "I am going to meet them, we are going to sign autographs. Then we head for talks with them. They are, you know, as brothers, sisters with us."

The children watched the hour-long practice session as the Americans played on the field below, putting on a display for the enthusiastic children, before an autograph session immediately after practice.

Many of the players lingered until after dark to satisfy the demands for photos and autographs of the eager children, who were star struck upon meeting the international soccer players. Oguchi Onyewu, a veteran defender for the American team who has played professionally throughout Europe, says helping out kids is always worth the time.

"For me, it means the world. Obviously, because it means the world to them," he said. "Anything we can do to help them out and to put a smile on their face. Sometimes it is the smallest things that make the biggest difference."

The Americans begin play in the Confederations Cup Monday night against Italy at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria. They continue their first round schedule there later in the week against Brazil, and round out group play Sunday against Egypt in Rustenburg.