More than a Gameby Brendon Bosworth / 10.12.2009
Ashamedly, I didn’t understand most of Helen Zille’s speech at the opening of the Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha on Saturday. Not because the premier was mispronouncing, she being most eloquent in her elocution, but because my isiXhosa doesn’t extend much past molweni. What I did take away was that, “football is much more than a game”.
That’s the concept behind the Football for Hope Centre, recently built in Harare, a “suburb” on the edge of Khayelitsha. It’s the first of five of it kind in South Africa and 20 throughout the continent, which form part of FIFA’s “20 Centres for 2010 campaign” in conjunction with streetfootballworld. This project, in the words of FIFA mainskiet Sepp Blatter, who drew some pretty serious support from the crowd, creates a, “trilogy between football, health and education”. To that effect, Grassroot Soccer, an SA NPO that uses soccer to educate young people about HIV/Aids, and is managing the Khayelitsha centre, will be hosting weekly programs for local kids, where they can kick around soccer balls on the spanking new artificial turf pitch, playing games and doing drills aimed at teaching them about HIV/Aids. Testing clinics and counselling services will also be available, whilst local peer educators will be trained to teach the youngsters, using an interactive HIV prevention and life skills curriculum.
We were given a demonstration of one of the learning exercises called Risk Field. Two teams of kids, who were joined by Lucas Radebe and Tokyo Sexwale, had to dribble a ball through five sets of beacons, each one marked with a high risk behaviour: Multiple Partners, Unprotected Sex, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Negative Peer Pressure and Sugar Mommies/Daddies. If you hit that filthy beacon, you had to stop and do a sit-up, slowing down the team. Even though some of the kids looked like they still had a few years to go until they concerned themselves with such pernicious vices, and just seemed happy enough with the ball at their feet, the message was clear: that sort of thing is no good for anybody.
It was kind of weird, being boxed into the fenced off arena, whilst Harare residents watched the media circus from outside. One of the more vocal onlookers, a woman chilling with her friends in front of her home, by a vegetable stall, openly proclaimed that Dr. Gabriele Princess Inaara the Begum Aga Khan (who I later discovered is a German philanthropist and doctor of law who has been appointed as the Football for Hope Ambassador, and also runs by the shortened title of ‘the Begum’) was her role model. Later, I asked the same woman about her thoughts on the Centre: “Ja it’s nice,” she reckoned, “to see everything is fine there by Khayelitsha. And we wish we could make it more, or something, but everything is going to fall apart…we need jobs, we are not working.”
I asked what she thought about Helen Zille. “You must tell [her] to make it more,” she replied, before her friends started trying to sell me air time and ice cream, neither of which I needed. “We’re not standing in there,” she pointed to the fenced in area, ‘‘cos it’s thirty rand for a ticket. I don’t have that; I don’t even have shoes. It’s going to be Christmas and we don’t have money for presents or what else.”
Did she think the World Cup would bring more money to SA? “I wish, but I don’t know. I wish they can promote us, I hope so.”
David Mabalarhane, a poet and first year psychology student, gave a positive opinion. “It’s a great opportunity for the youth of this country, and the youth of this poor township. In life, great things come once – this is an opportunity to grab it…It’s an opportunity for the kids to stay out of crime”. About Bafana’s chances, he was pragmatic, unlike much of the doomsaying I’ve heard since Friday’s draw: “I think they’re going to learn a lot from the international players. Their performance now is not of a good standard, but they will improve.”
Whether or not we make it past round one doesn’t seem too important when you know that initiatives like this are pointing our kids in the right direction. Let’s hope the Football for Hope Centres keep doing their thing for many years after the World Cup madness has come to an end.
*All pics © Tim Conibear