UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Soccer great Lionel Messi and tennis star Serena Williams are promoting a new campaign to help some of the 58 million children who are out of school get an education.
Both are goodwill ambassadors for the U.N. children's agency UNICEF which launched the campaign Friday night with the FC Barcelona Foundation, which was set up by Messi's team, and Reach Out To Asia which is part of the Qatar Foundation and promotes education.
The "1 in 11" campaign — named for the one in 11 primary school-age children who are not in school — initially aims to help over 500,000 marginalized youngsters in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal, with a goal of expanding to more countries.
A campaign film featuring Messi and Williams will be shown during Sunday's Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid match.
Jeremy Hartley, a UNICEF spokesman, said the campaign hopes to raise between $12 million and $15 million to kick start the project at an art auction at Sotheby's in London on Feb. 12 featuring donated works by 17 artists including Britain's Damien Hirst, Americans Jeff Koons and Richard Serra, and Japan's Takashi Murakami.
"Education is not a luxury, it is a necessity," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said at the launch.
FC Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu said the club "is committed to society" and players donate 0.5 percent of their income to its foundation every year to promote sports and education.
Essa Al Mannai, director of Reach Out to Asia, said the pilot program aims to reach 162,000 children in Bangladesh, 100,000 in Indonesia including many with disabilities, and 265,000 in Nepal.
Messi said in a statement that he is supporting the campaign "because I believe every child has the right to fulfill their potential realize their dreams." Williams said in a statement that the goal must be to get the number of youngers not going to school "down to zero."