The Italian Almanac

Paolo Maldini

Italian News - December 29

Paolo Maldini, a top soccer fullback who was in Maldives when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, is back to help fight rising drug abuse in the archipelago. Maldini, of Italy's AC Milan, was on holiday in the low-lying islands during tsunami on December 26, 2004. He has returned a year later, said UNICEF spokeswoman Meital Rusdia in the capital, Male.

Several other Italian soccer players - including AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi and Juventus defender Gianluca Zambrotta - were also in Maldives, but all the players were unhurt by the tsunami, which killed 82 people there. Today, Maldini kicked off the nationwide Unity Cup soccer tournament in the islands - an event to promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle for young people. "He went to the pitch (field) and kicked the ball, signalling start of the match," between local clubs, said Rusdia.

Drug abuse has been rising quickly among youth in Maldives in the past five years, and UNICEF said the tsunami exacerbated the situation by making disaster-hit communities more vulnerable to the drug inflow.