FREETOWN, Sierra Leone -- English soccer star David Beckham met with children in Sierra Leone on Saturday as part of his role as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, the U.N. child agency.
The L.A. Galaxy midfielder arrived in West Africa late on Friday on a two day trip to a country struggling to recover from a 1991-2002 civil war.
Infant and maternal mortality are among the highest in the world in the former British colony, where roads, schools and hospitals were devastated by a conflict notorious for images of drugged child soldiers raping and killing civilians.
"He's here as a guest of UNICEF," the charity's spokeswoman Alison Parker told Reuters by telephone. "He's covering programs on child survival in Sierra Leone; visiting a number of UNICEF programs in the northern part of the country on malaria prevention and immunization."
The former England captain traveled beyond the hot hilly coastal capital Freetown on Saturday to deprived rural areas in the north of the country, once held by rebels during the war.
More than 50,000 people were killed during the civil war and thousands more were left mutilated by rebels, who hacked limbs, noses and ears off their victims.
Youth unemployment runs at two-thirds and football is the most popular sport, played on dirt pitches by roadsides across the tropical country. Many taxis in Freetown bear huge stickers devoted to Manchester United, Beckham's old team.
Sierra Leone's footballing talent was highlighted this month after Watford's 19-year-old Sierra Leonean midfielder Al Bangura, who faced deportation, won the right to remain in Britain.