Monday, July 12, 2010
Perie Zabathempu has begun her weeks during the World Cup by reciting a Monday-morning story to groups of children in their early teens who live in the shantytowns that fringe Port Elizabeth, in South Africa. It’s a different group of kids each week, but the story she tells is always the same. “In 2001, I got sick,” Perie says, “but I didn’t know why.”
Perie is in her thirties and has a kind and lovely face. She tends to squint ever so slightly when in conversations or when talking to a group, as if she is listening with her eyes all the while. She has told her story many times and she gets through it confidently, without so much as a shudder. But she tells it softly, too, and the children trust her right away.
“It turned out I was HIV-positive,” she tells them. “But I am surviving. I have a son and that’s what makes me strong. I want to live for him.”
I met Perie on a cold and wet Wednesday in June. I had taken a break from the soccer that had brought me to South Africa and was spending the day at the Molefu Primary School in New Brighton, a poor neighborhood just north of Port Elizabeth’s city center, not far from the new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the site of eight World Cup matches. A strip of industrial warehouses stands between New Brighton and the Indian Ocean; the residential blocks are gray and low-slung and stretch on for miles. It is nothing like Summerstrand, the posh beachside community where my guesthouse was located on the other side of town, near the golf course and the university.
During the World Cup the Molefu Primary School has been taken over by Grassroot Soccer, a nonprofit organization that uses soccer to help children fight HIV and AIDS across southern Africa. Every Monday a new group of fifty or so kids arrived to spend the week with counselors and soccer coaches. The children spent their mornings taking part in educational activities focusing on HIV and AIDS, then after lunch they split into co-ed teams to play some soccer.
“We deliberately make the soccer just for fun,” Mpumi Lallie, one of the Grassroot Soccer organizers and a colleague of Perie’s, told me. “Kids learn better when they’re enjoying what they’re doing.”
Health workers in South Africa—home to nearly six million HIV-infected people, more than any other country in the world—have been counting on the World Cup in their fight against HIV and AIDS. “One of the legacies that we’re hoping will take root is better health and prosperity for the entire continent,” said Brian Suskiewicz, an American doing volunteer work in southern Africa for Coaches Across Continents and WhizzKids United, two groups doing work similar to Grassroot Soccer. “The World Cup has focused attention on HIV/AIDS awareness, and that’s a great thing.”
At the primary school I joined Perie in a classroom where 15 children went through a series of activities designed both to demonstrate how HIV/AIDS is spread and to lessen the stigma that comes with the disease. Some of the activities were games that had the room ringing with laughter; others left the kids holding onto each other as they choked back tears. Not everything was about AIDS—the leaders tried to encourage the children to talk about any troubles they were having. At one point a boy, maybe 15 years old, walked to the front of the classroom, pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, and read aloud about his struggles to deal with an adult in his home who routinely forced him to do drugs and drink alcohol. He read the note quietly and went back to his seat, where he was comforted by several of the others.
“We mix the serious with the fun,” said Perie. “Some of these kids have lost parents from HIV, some have been sexually abused, some arrive with empty stomachs. They open up and it gets very deep. We want to teach them that life is full of challenges, and they must expect that as they grow up.”
By starting off the week with their own personal stories, Perie and the other counselors hoped to show the kids that it’s okay to be vulnerable and show emotion. “I want to be honest with the kids so they can be open and honest with me,” she said. “They learn to trust and support each other.”
Sivuyile, a 16 year-old boy, told me that his father had recently suffered a stroke and that he and his six siblings got by on government hand-outs. “Dad was the bread-winner, and now nobody brings home any food,” he said. “It was good to open up about what’s happened to my family. And it helped me learn that if someone has HIV I must not discriminate against them. I must love and support them.”
As part of their plan to mix the fun and the serious, Grassroot Soccer had bought tickets for all the kids in the program to a World Cup match in Port Elizabeth for later that week. Sivuyile smiled when I asked him what he thought about the tournament being hosted in his country. “I feel happy,” he said. “I hope South Africa will win.”
It was raining after lunch, but the kids were not about to let that get in the way of their soccer games. They gathered under a covered pavilion, set up miniature goal posts, and played for nearly two hours on bricked-over concrete.
When the games finally ended I gathered my things and got ready to leave. But Perie motioned for me to wait. The children weren’t done quite yet. They came together, formed a circle, and then they began to sing.
Thankfully, I had a video camera.
Friday, July 9, 2010
She was once the princess of Greece and Denmark and now the Queen of Spain, but on Friday 09 July 2010, she was the guest of honor at the Khayalitsha football for Hope Center. Queen Sofia greeted skillz participants who were appropriately playing “find the ball,” a game whose title might describe Spain’s world-class style of play. However, this game is about HIV, not precision passing and hair-gel. Two teams stand opposite to each other passing a tennis ball behind their backs while the tennis ball is meant to represent HIV – the game symbolizes the difficulty of identifying an individual with HIV. Needless to say, the Queen was impressed by the games depth and tact, which led her to introduce herself to the young strategists. She then challenged the players to free kicks demonstrating her own aptitude for sport. Overall, the visit was a tremendous success and we were thrilled to share the final day of the Skillz Holiday programs with such an honorable guest.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
FIFA President welcomes next generation
Ten lucky young people had more than one reason to cheer today at Soccer City in Johannesburg. Not only were they heading to watch the much anticipated quarter-final between Uruguay and Ghana courtesy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Ticket Fund but they were also invited by FIFA President, Joseph S. Blatter to join him before the match to share their experience of participating in one of the social development programmes supported by the initiative.
Five young coaches from Grassroot Soccer, a non-governmental organisation who use football as a tool in the fight against HIV / Aids, were joined by five children from Sporting Chance, an organisation using the power of sport to break down social barriers and positively impact the lives of children. All ten had one thing in common, they each ‘earned’ a ticket for the match through their participation in the respective programmes. The youngsters would otherwise have been unable to attend a match had it not been for the support of the Ticket Fund which was created in line with the philosophy of the FIFA President to use the 2010 FIFA World Cup to give something back to the African continent.
After the meeting, an energised FIFA President commented: "I was extremely touched by these children who have endured so many struggles in their lives and given their very best to earn a ticket to a world cup match through the Ticket Fund. Seeing them so excited just to be in the stadium, seeing them dancing and laughing was amazing - and I have to say from my heart, it deeply moved me. The spirit and attitude of these young people is truly inspirational.”
Friday, July 2, 2010
For those who do not associate Drew Carey with US Soccer – your life is about change.
The facts: Mr. Carey is a minority owner of the Seattle Sounders, a member of the USA World Cup Bid Committee, and occasional USMNT sideline photographer. He is a driving force in launching soccer to the heights of baseball, football, and basketball in the USA. Most importantly, he is now exploring the power of soccer beyond the field – hence his visit to the Khayelitsha Football for Hope center on July 1st.
The saga begins like this… Drew leaves his home state of Ohio for the biz in LA. As a Cleveland Indians fanatic, the thought of even watching Dodgers churned his stomach like week old sushi. This propelled him to pick up a new sport in which he has no allegiances – soccer. In fairy-tale fashion, he and Soccer hit it off. The love affair solidified during one of his early interviews in LA with a local producer. Drew was nervous for the interview, but the two found common ground through the language of soccer. In that moment, Drew recognized the uniting power of the sport. He now finds himself passionately involved with US Soccer and co- owns the only MLS team with a marching band.
Now to Grassroot Soccer… Drew met GRS founder Tommy Clark at a US Soccer Foundation dinner, which may or may not have had something to do with Mr. Carey’s visit.
On Thursday Morning, Drew ventured out to Khayelitsha to check out GRS’s famed Skillz Holiday program. Drew quickly joined campers in their opening circle and impressed them with his traditional African “Drew Dance” which lies somewhere on the continuum between the funky chicken and Shakira (video coming soon). From there, he spent the entire day amongst campers, absorbing valuable life lessons from GRS activities.
The program included a role-playing activity known as the Red-Card campaign, which struck a chord with Mr. Carey’s passion for improv. In this activity, one child takes on the role of a “victim” and the other a “deviant” (make plural to add risk) and the players enact a situation that requires a “Red Card for HIV Risk.” The purpose of the activity is to provide participants with practice for when he or she finds herself in a risky situation.
The day culminated when Drew decided to “lose the shoes” (a catchy GRS phrase) on the pitch for a friendly 5 a side match. After the game ended in a draw, he ventured into the main classroom where all the campers had congregated. He stood in front of the crowd and presented camp awards to teams and individuals with his talk-show host spunk. Then, he graciously thanked the Staff and Coaches and presented each of them with FIFA endorsed jerseys and official World Cup match soccer balls.
As this recap reflects, GRS is extremely impressed with Mr. Carey and all he is doing for the sport.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
The Sony ticket fund has provided 25 Skillz graduates, just like Silungile, with the privilege of carrying a nations flag at the 2010 World Cup. Skillz coaches select each flag-bearer based on their demonstrated leadership and courage during Skillz camps. These individuals embrace the values Skillz teaches by participating in critical discussions and encouraging teammates to follow suit.
One GRS program manager, Chris Barkley, believes that this opportunity will create a deeper connection between flag bearers and their communities, “Hopefully they will see themselves as role-models and grow into future leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS.” Silumgile will certainly draw the admiration of her peers, so it is important that the others understand that positive behavior is what made this opportunity possible for her. If this aftereffect occurs, it is a critical step towards a generation of resilient youth in local African communities.
Saturday at Leresche Primary School in Soweto, four groups of boys and girls stretched and jostled for position, desperately trying to get hold of the ball in play. They jumped up with hands stretched to the sky, repeatedly calling “Coach! Coach!” in hopes of receiving a pass. Finally, a young girl gains the attention of the coach and the ball bounces her way. She gathers it as the rest of circle falls quiet. Then, she stands up proudly and…she tells everyone why she thinks that 18 is the right age for a young person to start having sex. When she’s done, the hands fly up again as other kids eagerly try to share their opinion. The ball moves around the circle and more answers enter into the debate. “21 years old,” “24!”, “36”, they say as coaches and peers push each other to reason through their responses. The group does not settle on an official age through this lively discussion, but the themes of responsibility, choice and family clearly show the knowledge gained by the participants throughout the week.
These enthusiastic youth were participating in an activity called “Talk Show” on the last day of their GRS Skillz Holiday Program. In this case, the ball was a tennis ball and no real sport was involved. Rather than a chance to shoot on goal, the holder of this sought after object simply got the chance to answer a question about the right age to start having sex, to discuss the reasons why condom use is important, or speak about how they can protect themselves from HIV.
At World Cup Skillz Holiday programs across South Africa, close to 2,400 youth have already engaged in similar conversations on the last day of their GRS camps and an estimated 5,400 will graduate by mid-July. Although some soccer is played, discussion-based activities make up a large portion of the curriculum and dominate the schedule on graduation day. At one point in Soweto, the kids were so eager to share their new knowledge that they decided not to play soccer; instead they chose to spend more time in “Team Talk” where they huddled in small groups and simply shared about their lives.
The participants at each camp also celebrate their week with a graduation ceremony. Coaches presented smiling youth with certificates that symbolize their achievement and remind them to put their learning into action. Or in the GRS language, to “Make their Move!” The graduates fought off tears as they hugged their coaches and walked away from the camp.
A new set of Skillz Holiday Programs already began this week. In fact, there are probably hundreds of kids across South Africa right now sitting in a circle diving after tennis balls for a chance to show what they’ve learned.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Constantly seeking new partnerships to expand its impact, Grassroot Soccer designed a unique Skillz Holiday program for this diverse group of youth. In addition to delivering the GRS HIV/AIDS curriculum, the camp will serve as an opportunity for the children of Levi Strauss factory workers to come together and experience the Khayelitsha community.
The one-week camp builds on Levi’s commitment to the welfare and health of it’s factory workers and their families. Levi’s was one of the first companies to return to South Africa after the apartheid era, and since then, have promoted HIV/AIDS awareness, education, and treatment to promote a healthy workplace environment.
You can learn more about this exciting partnership by clicking here.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
To learn more about (RED) check out joinred.com
During the action packed event local and international media were clamoring to get a piece of the action especially when Desailly and Sono started participating in one of the Skillz Sessions.
Bill Myles, Grassroot Soccer's Chief Operating, was there to witness the strong outpouring of support for national programme which will see 45 camps taking place across South Africa, touching the lives of 4,500 children. Commenting on his experience he said. “It was wonderful to receive such great support from so many soccer greats. It’s very inspiring to see how many people believe in this programme and what it can achieve.”
Polly Flinn, Castrol’s Global Vice President for Marketing, and her team didn’t waste any time getting thoroughly involved in one of the Skillz sessions. She was visibly humbled after the session finished.
“It was an honour to be present at the launch of a programme that is striving towards building a better South Africa,” she said.
In the next month during the World Cup, Castrol and Grassroot Soccer will be rolling out 45 holiday camps, across 7 provinces in South Africa. An estimated 4,500 young people will be touched by the programme. It’s time to make a difference!
Japanese singing sensation, Misia and legendary Japanese Footballer, Hidetoshi Nakata made a special visit to the Football for Hope Center on Tuesday. This amazing duo spent time with groups of ecstatic kids from Grassroot Soccer’s (RED) Holiday Skillz Program and Sony’s Siyakhona youth media program.
Misia, who is also an honorary UN Ambassador on Biodiversity and founder of the nonprofit organization Child AFRICA, encouraged the kids to keep up their work at the Center. She told them how her visits to Africa provide her with the inspiration to make music, which she proved by sharing a song with all in attendance.
Check out the video below to see it for yourself!
Monday, June 14, 2010
With the World Cup in full swing, Grassroot Soccer opened its (RED) Skillz Holiday with a fun day of fair-play soccer and live music. Representatives from (RED), Converse, and Bugaboo joined in the Skillz activities alongside 100 youth from Khayelitsha. Local bands HHP and Black Jacks also came out to show their support and performed an impromptu acoustic set for the cheering crowd of kids.
Sunday's events kicked off the week-long camp that highlights Grassroot Soccer's commitment to fight HIV and AIDS in Africa.
Check out the video below to see how it all went down!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The excitement surrounding the World Cup escalated to a new level today. The Cape Town Grassroot Soccer staff joined in as thousands of pedestrians flooded the streets to blast their vuvuzelas in celebration. Drivers honked their car horns and international fans juggled and dribbled soccer balls through oncoming traffic and crowded street corners. Passenger vehicles waved flags out of their windows and business men/women flocked to their balconies to contribute their vuvuzela skills to the afternoons prevailing drone.
We can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Grassroot Soccer contributed to the World Cup excitement Tuesday by launching two inspiring campaigns at the Khayelitsha Football for Hope Center.
Over 100 local schoolgirls participated in the Skillz Street Celebration, marking the official start of Grassroot Soccer’s ambitious initiative to reach 1 million youth before the kick off of Rio de Janeiro’s 2014 World Cup. Accompanied by friends, family and plenty of vuvuzelas, 10 teams of girls danced and dribbled to commemorate their commitment to the empowering Skillz curriculum.
The event celebrated the beginning of an innovative partnership between GRS and international philanthropist Bobby Sager’s “Hope is a Game-Changer” project. GRS and its partners will receive 10,000 indestructible soccer balls for use in programming across Africa. The bright yellow balls are designed to face up to the toughest conditions imaginable and will keep rolling even after being run over by a truck (although this wasn’t tested at the event). “The slightest ray of hope can ignite the human spirit’s ability to overcome,” says Sager, who sees the balls as a symbol of hope and looks to GRS to realize his vision for social change.
In the next month GRS will continue to build on this momentum, engaging more than 5,000 youth through Skillz Holiday Programs, bringing close to 15,000 young people to World Cup matches, and sending youth representatives from our South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia programs to the Football for Hope Festival 2010.
Get ready for the World Cup!