Rare are those players that leave a lasting impression beyond what you see on the pitch. In 2014, Neymar, who went from sharing a small room with his family to becoming a global icon, is one of those players.
And it’s not based upon what he has done at Santos, Barcelona or for Brazil. Not all of us know of how a person of Neymar’s calibre can inspire many is but most of us know a good story when it is laid out and told well, when it contains emotions, and when that emotions turns into a desire to help others.
In December of 2014, five months after the disastrous campaign in the World Cup, Neymar launched the Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr. (INJR or Neymar Junior Institute) in the very neighborhood he spent much of his youthful years in – Praia Grande, Sao Paulo.
In collaboration with FC Barcelona’s Foundation, INJR is a private non-profit association that is dedicated to the privileged children and their families within the neighborhood. It encompasses a modern educational and sports complex in Praia Grande.
The relationship between Neymar and his desire to do his part in social responsibility was evident during the launch event.
“Today was a great day. It was the day I wanted to come and I am very happy, my whole family is very happy,” said Neymar adding that “I lived two blocks from here and I know how it was in my childhood. I knew we didn’t have opportunities. So this (the institute) is a giant door for us to give opportunities to the people here.”
And his inspiration being the need to “inform parents, to help them teach their kids that they can make their dreams come true, if they fight and work for them. I think you can make any dream come true.
Funded to an amount of approximately $9.2 million, the land on which the complex was built was leased from the city in a 30-year deal, renewable for another 30 on expiry. The institute will not act as a platform for scouts to discover another Neymar.
Since then, it has not only become widespread, but has brought in foundations that are in need nurturing at a younger age – something of a conscience for a generation attempting to make sense of the financial disparity that is prevalent across the country. The 2,300 children that are involved have to go through a two-step vetting process to access the facilities within INJR. The institute will only accepts children from families with monthly incomes of $51 per person living in the eight poor burbs of Praia Grande. Secondly, it is required children regularly go to school and attend at least 90% of classes, under laying the importance of education.
Brands like Nike, Volkswagen and Redbull, for their own very reasons, have joined up with Neymar to participate in this noble cause. For example, Nike recently provided a free clinic for a group of children from the Institute. And of course, kids were able to see and test the new boot used by Neymar Jr. and created by Brazilian artist Bruno Big.
And that’s not all what these kids get exposed to. There is always an element of surprise when an occasional live Q&A with the Barca stars like Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique takes place or a sports pro stops over at the institute for a quick meet and greet.
Regardless, Neymar’s ability to return to his roots and bring about a smiles on the face of kids, who otherwise had a higher probability of getting into the negative environment, has not only exposed the human side of him but talks highly of the legacy that the talented footballer wants to leave.