Saturday, 24 February 2007

Ulises de la Cruz

Footballers are, on the whole, an over-paid arrogant bunch who think that the occasional appearance on Children In Need or Comic Relief makes them appear humble and worthy. I don’t begrudge them their salaries, get what you can lads, and I know some do make a bit of an effort, but Ecuadorian footballer Ulises de la Cruz puts most of them to shame.

De la Cruz comes from the remote village of Piquiucho, three hours north of Ecuador’s capital Quito. The people of Piquiucho tended to live in ramshackle homes and the area was largely neglected by the government, but in recent years it has seen major rejuvenation.

18km of fresh water pipes have been laid to rid the village of the fungal infections spread for years by dirty water. A medical centre has opened with a full-time doctor, dentist and nurse. Education has been given a boost with a new roof for the local school along with hundreds of books and a playground. Every morning, 100 primary school children get breakfast and lunch provided for free, meals they may not have received otherwise. A new complex of homes, built to modern standards, is now underway.

Every single penny for this reconstruction and improvement has come from the pocket of Ulises de la Cruz. Currently playing for Reading in the Premiership, the footballer sends back 10% of his salary to fund the work of the foundation he set up. His mother, Edita, is in charge of making sure the money goes to the right causes.

Unlike many footballers, who count their success in trophies, adulation and sponsorships, de la Cruz equates his triumphs with what they can do for his home village:

‘The 2006 World Cup in Germany, when we reached the second round, was important because the success means I can finance a new sports and community centre, now under construction.’

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