Monday, June 28, 2010

2,400 Graduates are Ready to ‘Make Their Move!’

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.

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