I’ve been involved in various charitable causes over the years, but the 2014 FIFA World Cup is particularly memorable for me. With the BigShoe initiative, which pays for vital operations for children in poverty, I was able to help children in Brazil get the medical care they needed. That feeling of seeing healthy, shining children's eyes was incredible.
I noticed that other athletes wanted to join me, and as a result more and more people got involved in the project. Now the BigShoe team is really strong, and so many beautiful and important things have come from it. It has inspired me to use my platform to make as much of an impact as possible for other projects, so that I can help even more people around the world.
I’m also an ambassador for the Rays of Sunshine charity, which grants special wishes to seriously ill children. During our Arsenal home games I would often host a family from Rays of Sunshine and meet them after the game – it’s always so inspiring and motivating to see them.
My friend, Stefan Pappert, is a royal chef. I’ve worked with his team to prepare tens of thousands of meals for underprivileged kids in London since the Covid-19 pandemic started. This Christmas, we’re aiming to make an additional 40,000 meals for those in need.
Charity work has broadened my world view. I’m lucky to be in an extremely privileged position, other people unfortunately do not have this luck. I therefore want to do what I can to take away other people's worries and give them a better life. When I see that my deeds do good, it makes me happy and motivates me to help even more people.
The visits I’ve had from the kids at Rays of Sunshine particularly touched me. Some of the families have come multiple times, and it’s amazing to build a relationship with some of these kids. They’ve told me afterwards how much they love Arsenal and football and what it has meant for them. It’s really touching to be able to help give them some happiness during a very difficult time for them and their families.
I really hope that my commitment helps many, many people in need and that I can support them in their lives. I am always on the lookout for other initiatives that I'm convinced will have a big impact. I also hope that other athletes will continue to join me in helping others all over the world. My work in this area is definitely not over, and there’s so much more we can do.
While I use my privileged position and platform to help others, everyone can make a positive impact through small gestures. Just sparing time to talk with people who may need cheering up or smiling at a stranger can help.
There are many organisations with different, positive goals. Go to a charity organisation, talk to them and let them show you the projects they’re working on. I assure you, there are few things better than looking into the shining eyes of happy children knowing you helped bring them that happiness!