The touching photos attracted widespread media attention in recent weeks — a small boy in some unknown village in the Middle East playing soccer, wearing an old plastic bag as a makeshift jersey.
On the back of the plastic bag jersey, “Messi” and “10” were written in black marker, the blue and white stripes of the bag mimicking the uniform of soccer great Lionel Messi on the Argentinian national team.
Now, a Turkish plastics industry trade group is saying it played a significant role in finding the boy in a remote part of Afghanistan and that it wants to offer him a scholarship.
The story of 5-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi has garnered worldwide media attention. The images went viral starting in mid-January, launching an online campaign to find him.
There was some speculation that he was in Iraq, but then came press coverage in late January that identified Ahmadi and located him at his family's home in rural Ghazni province, about 125 miles from Kabul.
The Turkish Plastic Industrialists' Foundation, or Pagev, put out a statement Feb. 6 saying it played a role in finding Ahmadi, and its chairman said in an interview that Pagev plans to give the boy a scholarship to pay for his education up to university.
In the statement, Istanbul-based Pagev said it “could not stand indifferent to the photo of Afghan Murtaza Ahmadi wearing a Messi jersey made out of [a] plastic bag.”
It said began monitoring online media and working unofficial contacts in the region, including in Iraq, when the news first broke. After some reports that the child might be in Afghanistan, the plastics association said it contacted the Turkish Embassy in Kabul and the Afghan Consulate in Istanbul.
Pagev told government officials in both countries two weeks ago that it wanted to offer the boy a scholarship if he could be found.
By that time Messi and soccer officials in Spain, where Messi plays professionally, were saying that they wanted to bring the boy to Spain to meet Messi.
Pagev believes that the scholarship plan created a much bigger impetus for the governments to figure out who Ahmadi was and find him, said Pagev Chairman Yavuz Eroglu, in a Feb. 7 telephone interview with Plastics News.
After Ahmadi was found, Pagev worked to get him a visa to Turkey, thinking it would bring him to Istanbul to offer the scholarship as part of the boy's journey to Spain and Messi, Eroglu said.
But there were delays getting Ahmadi out of his rural village because of fighting, requiring protection from the Afghan army to bring him to Kabul, Pagev said.