Anti-Poverty Group Issues 'Report Card' for Africa as World Cup Begins

As the World Cup tournament takes place on African soil for the first time, one U.S.-based non-profit has issued a "report card" for the continent highlighting it's progress as well as many areas for improvement.

Anti-poverty group Bread for the World has given Africa high marks for their relatively fast recovery from the global economic crisis, which they say is largely due to the continent's isolation in the global economy.

The group also noted successful democratic transitions made by African countries such as Liberia, who held its first elections in 2005, and Ghana, which they say is "considered one of the continent's most successful and steady democracies."

And while hunger is still a problem in Africa, Bread for the World noted that some of the continent's poorest countries - including Rwanda, Tanzania, Mali, Zambia, Mozambique, and Ghana-are on track to meet several of the Millennium Development Goals.

Furthermore, Ethiopia has put doubled its school enrollment from 2001 to 2006, and Nigeria has doubled the production and income of its farmers, the group reports.

Despite the progress, however, the group also reported that Africa continues to face some of the world's biggest challenges, such as in its battle with HIV.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains heavily affected by HIV, the groups says, noting that in 2008, the region accounted for 67 percent of HIV infections worldwide, 68 percent of new HIV infections among adults, and 91 percent of new HIV infections among children.

The region also accounted for 72 percent of the world's AIDS-related deaths.

Furthermore, nearly 30 percent of Africans-218 million people-continue to suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition.

"African countries will continue to thrive only within a supportive and coherent international policy environment, working with global partners to build on these recent gains," the report states.

Alongside Bread for the World, the United Nations is also using the World Cup as an opportunity to push for progress in ending poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "As we cheer the teams on the football pitch, let us remember: achieving the MDGs is not a spectator sport. It takes every one of us on the field."

"If we work together, we can score a victory over poverty. We can defeat ignorance, discrimination and want," he added. "We can ensure every man and woman, every girl and boy has an opportunity on the playing field of life."

The two week World Cup tournament kicked off today with a lavish opening ceremony in front of 100,000 people.

South African Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu gave a short message during the event where he made reference to Africa as the "cradle of humanity."

"Every single one of you... from South Africa, or from Germany, or from France, or anywhere... you are African now!" Tutu said during his introduction to a film about Nelson Mandela.

"We want to say to the world - Thank you for helping this worm to become a beautiful butterfly," he added.

Meanwhile, several faith-based groups and non-profits have launched campaigns to raise awareness about issues such as human trafficking and HIV/AIDS during the World Cup.

One initiative, the Red Card to Human Trafficking Campaign, was launched in March by the South African Justice Department, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Commission of Gender Equality and the 2010 World Cup Organizing Committee.

"The campaign against human trafficking will be implemented beyond the six weeks of the Soccer World Cup as part of your government's anti-trafficking programme," said. Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe.

In May, a Catholic mass was held in Pretoria to pray for an end to human trafficking.

"We call for a vigorous public awareness of the scourge of human trafficking," Archbishop of Johannesburg Buti Tlhagale said during the mass. "Each individual, each parish community, the entire Christian community should stand together in order to campaign against this evil of selling human beings in exchange for sexual favours."

Other Catholic bishops in South Africa have organized a parallel "Peace Cup" tournament that will focus on building good relationships among the large diversity of soccer fans visiting South Africa.

"The Peace Cup's objective is to seize the FIFA World Cup's opportunity to spread the values that our societies so much need, especially in Africa. These are values that the Church does not cease to advocate: charity, dialogue with other religions and cultures, justice, solidarity, fraternity, non-violence," a statement from the event's organizers reads.

"Sport is a recognized instrument for promoting these values, as it disregards both geographical borders and social classes. It also plays a significant role as a promoter of social integration and economic development in different geographical, cultural and political contexts," they say.

Other faith leaders are simply praying that the World Cup can be a time of Godly celebration and unity.

"Lord of all the nations, who played the cosmos into being, guide, guard and protect all who work or play in the World Cup. May all find in this competition a source of celebration, an experience of common humanity and a growing attitude of generous sportsmanship to others," a prayer posted last month by the Rt. Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon, read.

Baines also included a prayer for those "simply not interested" with the World Cup, asking God to bless them with understanding, to strengthen them with patience, and to grant them the "gift of sympathy if needed."

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera told Catholic News Agency (CNA) that sports are a gift from God to practice the values of life.

"Sports possess a spiritual dynamism that teach us how to fight, how to overcome and be joyful in a good sense," Carrera said.

"The physical and spiritual potentialities of sports should also educate us in peace, as despite all of the differences that can exist, unity is possible when there is good will and when the search for the common good and the development of peoples exists," he added.

Referencing Apostle Paul's analogy that compares the walk of faith to a race, Carrera further noted that "without sacrifice one cannot obtain great results or authentic satisfaction."

"Even the greatest of champions, when faced with the fundamental questions of existence, is vulnerable and needs God's light in order to overcome the difficult challenges that human beings are called to face in competition," Carrera said

The cardinal added that while fame and physical fitness pass away, "the fullness to which all human beings are called is eternal, and only Christ gives it to those who compete to be better, to achieve the crown of holiness."

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