For me, Africa is such a simple and yet complicated continent. It’s simple because the people are so warm-hearted and make you feel at home, and yet complicated because people are suffering due to poverty and unhealthy living conditions. These challenges need the many professionals all over the world to unite and help conquer the problems that Africa faces.
WhizzKids United is one of the best NGOs who fight on the front line against HIV/AIDS in one of South Africa’s most affected areas, Pietermaritzburg. With my dedicated heart and promising public health professional knowledge and skills, I am honored to have joined WKU as a volunteer and an intern. During the three months at WKU, I’ve experienced various adolescent-focused activities and services, such as sexual-reproductive health intervention and life skills training using football as a metaphor in dealing with the HIV pandemic. I got involved in the feeding scheme for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, and many other fun activities provided to clients who come to the Health Academy. This has been a mind opening journey for me to work in and live in such a child-friendly environment and see how much fun the children are having. Their smiles make me happy.
I held the position of program coordinator at WKU. Being based at the Durban office slightly changed my responsibilities and gave me opportunities to work for the Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s (OVC) programme. I have been very fortunate to work on the annual report and eventually submitting it to the funder of Meal-A-Day; this project began when I opted to help my program manager to gather information and statistics that would be presented as a form of a report- the report also clearly defined the organization’s hard work and progress during the past year. This was a great chance to monitor and evaluate the OVC program in-depth. There have been several challenges of gathering different data, but we finally managed to come up with an improved and more efficient approach to track data. Meanwhile, it is also exciting to participate in the process of developing WKU’s promising Monitoring & Evaluation programme.
All in all, it has been a wonderful experience at WKU, but sadly I need to go back to the missions awaiting me. I wish I could stay longer so I could have taken many more responsibilities that need more time to undertake. As the saying goes, “being apart opens a door to reunite”, so hopefully I will come back to this charming country and contribute my efforts again.
So, I am probably the only volunteer that WKU has had working on its projects who has no idea about football, but that doesn´t seem to be a problem as I am having a great time taking photos, meeting people and travelling around as well as doing some interesting project work.
We have been here for 3 months and we are really enjoying ourselves; we both have our different work to do. Spencer is an accountant and has taken charge of the financial affairs of the charity and I am project managing, teaching a group together with introducing and embedding some quality assurance aspects.
Some of my time is spent teaching and working with a group of young people – showing them how to use digital media to describe their lives. This is now taking off, and they are having fun learning new techniques and skills with the computer and cameras.
Recently the group had fun taking photos at the Coaches Across Continents event; there are now 27 photos on the CAC website all taken by this group. Next week sees us all learning how to use the cameras to make films. The group are all still in school and want to have the opportunity improve their skills, have fun and make new friends. Another aspect of this project is for the young people to encourage others to come to the HA, see their work and to engage with the projects that are offered there.
It was the 5th October 2012 when I arrived at the King Shaka International Airport in Durban. Since then 12 months have gone and I’m with WhizzKids already for a year. It’s been an amazing time with many memorable highlights.
The last months with WhizzKids United have been very busy. Time flies like the wind and there wasn’t even time to write a few lines for the blog. WhizzKids United is like a never sleeping city – always busy. People are coming and leaving. I’ve worked with 12 different international volunteers in the programme team, and a total of 19 volunteers joined and left our organization. I met some amazing people during my last year with WhizzKids United and it was a pleasure to work with so many passionate people for the aim of a HIV-free young generation in Edendale, Kwa-Zulu Natal and all over South Africa. I really enjoy this intercultural experience, to learn from other people, listen to their stories and understand their culture. It made me more sensitive towards other people and broadened my view of the world.
If I review the last couple of months there are lots of highlights that I’ve experienced. Our tournaments at Sinamuva Primary and Siyahlomula High School in May this year were definitely one of them. For the first time we combined the football tournament with an HCT (HIV Counseling and Testing) campaign. It was very promising and we will continue with it in the future. It was a pleasure to see how much the youth enjoy playing football and how interested they are in the Health Academy and our work.
I was also very happy when we started a new vegetable garden at the Siyahlomula High School which was one of our objectives of the OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) programme. We organize seedlings for some surrounding schools from our partner, Sunshine seedlings, and it was very nice to put together a plan of actions with the students. We planted spring onions, cabbages, cauliflower and beetroot for the school kitchen. Seeing the plants blossom was definitely emotion for me and to see the good work materialize gave me some sort of a good balance compared to my usual office work.
The ground breaking ceremony for the new Football for Hope Center in May this year was definitely one of the biggest highlights of my stay. The whole organization was looking forward to this day and we all worked very hard to make this happen. It was very interesting to see how relieved the people have been that were involved in the whole process of applying, planning and re-planning, preparing and re-preparing. Since May the construction proceeded and we hope to hold the opening ceremony by the beginning of next year. Unfortunately I probably won’t be with WhizzKids anymore by that time.
The most recent highlight was the Coaches across Continents (CAC) visit last week. It was such fun to work with Nick Gates and his colleague Nora Dooley. I really enjoyed being on the football pitch, to work with children and youth, boys and girls and feel the power of football for social impact as well as to improve my own coaching skills. I realized that after my time with WhizzKids I would very much like to continue to use football as a medium for education and empowerment, be in direct contact with the young generation to help them to be “shape their future with their feet”.
They say that as you get older time goes more quickly. That may be true, but really, this is getting ridiculous now! As I reach the end of my time in South Africa it seems like just yesterday that I arrived open-minded and pasty-faced in April, full of anticipation for my time with WhizzKids United. Over the last six months I have spent valuable time with some great children in Edendale; made small-talk with an Oscar-winner; and been fortunate enough to be involved in the day-to-day running of some great projects.
With all this in mind, it seems a fitting time to share with everyone a new project which WhizzKids United has recently embarked upon. Soon after I started working here, the opportunity arose for us to apply for funding with FIFA and Sony for a project focused around digital media. Always looking for opportunities to diversify the services which we offer at our Health Academy, and harbouring a passion for photography myself, we put together an engaging programme for 14 local youth to take part in an innovative 10 month training project.
Several months down the line, I am pleased to say that funding was approved and we are now deep into our project ‘Through the Looking Glass’. We have recruited an enthusiastic group of youngsters all with an interest in furthering their skills and enhancing their career opportunities in areas such as journalism. In partnership with local company Full Circle Communications, our team has been developing their knowledge of digital media equipment, storytelling and design through the production of bi-weekly news boards displayed at the Health Academy. These will inform readers about recent activities within the community, but the team will also be working on producing health promotion information based around themes which have been agreed in-line with the Department for Health.
Whilst our team will clearly benefit from the skills and experience which they will gain during this programme, the project will reach wider than this. The materials produced will not only give them practice in what they have learnt but serve as a fun and interesting way of communicating with the local community. This incentive looks to encourage people to visit the Health Academy and increase the uptake of its services, something that is a central objective behind all of our extra-curricular activities.
My time with WhizzKids United has bought many great moments, but developing Through the Looking Glass has been one of my most satisfying achievements. Being able to see a project through to fruition from initial conception and planning to delivery and workshop facilitation is hugely rewarding, and the children have been great to work with. Keep your eye on the WhizzKids United website, Facebook page and blog to be up to date with the children’s progress – who knows, we may have some future Pulitzer Prize winners in the making!
Thanks to the WhizzKids United team and children for giving me an unforgettable experience in South Africa. May they reach higher heights than before and create a positive impact so that the organisation may continue to grow, whilst the need for it possibly diminishes.
Not so long ago, I’m not going to give away my age that easily, I was born in Sleepy Hollow city also known as the City of Choice or more officially Pietermaritzburg.
I lived in Pietermaritzburg for most of my life but I’d never ventured into Edendale. I arrived at the main hospital building to meet my head supervisor. The hospital was filled with patients who looked like they had lost their patience. So many people needed care. Many people sat in queues with blankets wrapped around them. The wards looked overfilled and the severity of cases was apparent.
WhizzKids United Health Academy Clinic was a more pleasant site. The atmosphere was more cheerful and the staff wore a soccer kit making the setting less dull and clinical. I thought to myself, ‘what a liberating feeling this must be for the children to have their own space’.
Whizzkids United Health Academy is one of the main recruitment sites for the risk compensation behaviour study focusing on young males between the ages of 14- 24 years who are undergoing the medical circumcision procedure.
As an undergraduate student, I visualized the life of a researcher as an isolated individual in a laboratory. Someone surrounded by test tubes and caged rodents. In my post- graduate years, I thought of researchers as experts who presented their findings to an audience.
Social science researchers often make a concerted effort to understand the social dynamics of the context before the research begins. Working with the WhizzKids United Team has exceeded my expectations of the research site. The findings from the study will be released early in 2014.
The staff at the Health Academy is truly dedicated and made me feel like I was part of the team immediately. I have reminisced about my Primary School assemblies each team I have joined the life skills coaches during school visits. I’m one of those who found Maths and Physics tough during High School. It was a special moment when a patient at the clinic brought along Trigonometry homework. I smiled and agreed to assist. Children are an amazing gift. They remind us of the struggles we faced at some stage and found the courage to overcome them.
Winston Churchill said: "A Person Becomes a Person through Other People". I have been blessed to meet many inspirational at the Health Academy.
WhizzKids is a dynamic environment which is setting the pace for the future generation of globe trotters. WhizzKids invests in global networking to its advantage both internally and externally. The OVC’s (orphaned and vulnerable children) are exposed to volunteers who share their global experiences very willingly with the children in various fields of activities.
I’m glad to be a part of a cutting-edge study that is taking place in my hometown and to be a part of the vibrant team at WhizzKids United Health Academy.
Nelson Mandela once said that the credible demonstration of the commitment of African leaders is to place the rights of children at the forefront. These words still echo in my head as though they had been whispered upon my ear by the struggle icon himself and are as fresh as yesterday’s daisy.
“Yesterday” my faith in humanity was renewed. “Yesterday” I began to believe in the expansion of the vision that began 3 years ago, the building of the WhizzKids United Health Academy. Why yesterday though? I don’t have a definite answer, but venturing deeper in thought, I do recall a chain of events that stirred this sudden embroilment of emotions within me. Well, it was around lunch time when a train of ants decided to feast upon my fries when I had abandoned them for five minutes or so. But surely I could not bore you in telling what happened next. However a summary will do no harm; due to such a large number of ants I lost interest on the fries that I had craved throughout the morning until lunchtime; much to the approval of the ants I abandoned my fries completely, mind you I had eaten a quarter of the fries.
After that little ordeal of giving back to Mother Nature and feeding one of her most annoying of creatures, don’t tell me you like ants, or you do? Anyway, for some odd reason I felt dreary as I starred upon the horizon of Edendale, patiently waiting for those tedious moments of no self worth to dissipate. What a queer time to feel depressingly empty and soul barren, who feels like that after lunch? Then whilst gulping away my poison of sorrow something hit me! Not physically, but something caught my attention. As I looked across my shoulder I noticed a group of kids laughing, which soon grew to singing and dancing. I watched them with immense interest; were they enjoying each other’s company I thought to myself, partly yes. They had this brightness in them, a sense of self worth, their smiles gleamed with hope and their singing simply translated to a “brighter future”. The WhizzKids United Health Academy had yet again proved why Nelson Mandela seeks for the establishment of a children’s hospital- not for self glorification but for the same reason the kids across my shoulder rely on the Health Academy. The Health Academy is founded on solid principals of attending to the health needs of the kids in Edendale and the staff who work tirelessly without resentment forms part of the many reasons why I commit to serving the future of my continent. Almost a month ago I met Charlize Theron, today I can only think of her but her words will continuously hover across all corners of the Health Academy- “the youth of this country are the future and we should not halt our fight against HIV&AIDS” were her exact words. That instant moment I felt a wave of joviality filling my soul, I had no excuse to feel gloomy and dull in a place that offers so much care and hope to thousands of kids.
I don’t slightly doubt that when Mandela’s vision was often met by a host of questions that would often result in the relinquishment of his dream; such thinking has even led me to ceaselessly applaud the selflessness of the founder of WhizzKids, Marcus, who never surrendered nor gave in, Winston Churchill would be pleased.
“Is it a bird, is it a plane…”
While the new Superman film is being enjoyed by millions across the world, WhizzKids United have been working with our own men (and women!) of steel, taking them back to the basics of comic book drawing in an innovative effort to give them a safe environment to share their feelings and combat their life challenges.
Following the conception of the project from our partner Cardiff University, we were able to utilise their expertise to run the sessions, held on the weekend of 23rd & 24th February. Twenty nine children attended the workshops which were run at the WhizzKids United Health Academy and focused on them designing their own comics and individual trees of life. Children were taught the skills needed to conceive characters and storylines, effectively convey emotions through their drawings and use these experiences to represent challenges which they face in their lives.
While these are great skills for them to acquire – and they had a great deal of fun learning them – looking more broadly the workshops allowed them an important opportunity to discuss the critical challenges which they face in their lives, such as their HIV status and how it may affect relationships with their friends. In discussing these issues with other children living in similar circumstances a real sense of trust was established; teaching the children that they were not alone in facing the challenges in their lives and fostering a real sense of trust between them.
The workshops weren’t only useful for the children themselves but WhizzKids United as an organisation. As our CEO Marcus says, “WhizzKids United is all about helping young people. If WKUHA are going to help young people we need to know what problems and what difficulties they face”. Working in this creative and innovative way with the children really allowed us as an organisation to understand the issues which they face and how we can ensure that our services are suitable for them.
The comics which the children drew provide a genuine snapshot of the challenges in their lives, whilst also giving a heart-warming impression of their positivity in overcoming them. The children’s artwork has since been digitally coloured and lettered by an award-winning British cartoonist and is now available to view on our website. If you have not already seen the comics I implore you to take a look at their amazing work at www.whizzkidsunited.org/comics.
Having seen and learnt about the success of the comic book workshops which WhizzKids United held in partnership with Cardiff University earlier this year I am excited to report that I will be taking over the organisation of more upcoming workshops which we will be holding with boys and girls from Edendale in the coming months. I am hard at work at the moment working with our Health Academy team to organise these workshops for the children and ensure that they have as big as an impact as possible. I am delighted to say that Cardiff University have agreed to help us source funding and assist us with these events again, and we are very grateful to them for their continued support. Together we can combat the spread of HIV in Edendale and improve the lives of those infected immeasurably.
Watch this space for more superhero stories…. and maybe some comics as well!
“Today I am going to teach you all how to play touch rugby,” I gently spoke to the kids. “Can you play rugby?” asked one of the kids who looked at me sternly. It was at that moment that I realised that I had no clue on how to play rugby, but I had watched a great deal of it on TV and understood the basics of the sport. “Well, I am not very good but I know a thing or two,” I replied nervously.
My name Mlungisi Khumalo and I am a student at the Durban University of Technology. I am excited to be part of WhizzKids United’s initiative of combating HIV&AIDS through the power of sports, football being the main focus. I will be interning at WKU for six months and will be working as a media coordinator.
I remember once reading about the civil war in Ivory Coast and the tremendous negative impact the unrest was causing to the country. An Ivorian footballer called Didier Drogba (former Chelsea striker) came up with an idea of using football to bring peace and stability in the war torn regions of Cote d’Ivoire. Drogba’s reputation as a successful African footballer playing for one of Europe’s finest football clubs made him the perfect candidate to assist rebuild the civil war devastated Cote d’Ivoire. Drogba is now a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program and still continuously advocates for progress and development across the globe through sports.
I was inspired by Drogba’s story and also felt that I could play my part at WKU in the fight against HIV&AIDS. WKU had an all sports day event in Edendale, Pietermaritzburg, and I voluntarily opted to teach the kids touch rugby. Although a second later I realized that I was clueless on how to play the sport but would recall everything that I had seen on TV, which later played to my advantage. After a few practices the kids got the basics although most of them got a bit disappointed when I informed them that we would replace tackles with just a simple touch. When we were done with practicing we had a match between my players and the other players who were being taught by another volunteer. During the game it struck me that most of the kids had potential to become great touch rugby players if only they were exposed to the right coaching and equipment. To see the smiles and the joy on their faces humbled me as I had achieved something at the end of the day; I had taught the kids to play rugby with the smallest of knowledge. We had a rotation schedule for all the various sporting codes which included, touch rugby, netball and soccer. Touch rugby soon became popular as the kids grew highly competitive in their newly found sport. The challenge however was to keep telling the kids not to pass the ball to a player behind them as the rules of the game stated that the ball should only be passed to a player behind. “You can almost imagine how that felt like”.
It’s been almost three weeks since I began my internship with WhizzKids United as a media coordinator. Working for WhizzKids United has also given me insight as to what I would like to do once I am complete with my internship. I have come to believe that WKU is an organization that has uniquely established itself to champion the various social disadvantages in the community of Edendale and I definitely want to be part of the change.
Firstly I want to apologise for the lateness of this blog, it should have been ready a while ago because on 21st April 2013 I, Lauren Kocher, 5 foot 1, hater of running, and lover of Haribo, completed the London Marathon (believe me that statement sounds even weirder to me than it does to you!). I think the reason it has taken me so long to write this is because it has taken me this long to get my head around the hardest thing I will ever do in memory of one of the most amazing people I have known.
Now I just want to remind you all again, I HATE running, which is why this was a particularly difficult challenge for me. For someone who hasn’t run for more than a bus since school, the prospect of spending over 5 hours pounding the pavements of London is a pretty horrific one! I have taken part in many fundraising sporting events in the past but anything involving running was never on my radar, so I needed an especially strong reason to even want to think about doing this.
It was 2 days after the London Marathon 2012 when I heard that Khumza had passed away due to a stabbing in his home township of Edendale. It was a shock to everyone who knew him and WhizzKids United will never be the same again. He passed away leaving behind his family who meant so much to him and for whom he was the only breadwinner. He was one of the most incredibly generous, and caring people I have ever had the pleasure of being friends with and thinking about him in the past tense is even harder than running a marathon.
I’m not sure that many of you knew how much his passing affected me, so much so that I stupidly signed up to running the marathon in his memory and to raise money for his family and the charity we both worked for, WhizzKids United. However, I never thought I would actually get a place, I think the statistic is 1 in 4 who apply get in so I felt pretty secure in the fact that I wouldn’t! Nevertheless, in October 2012 I returned home to find a package from the Virgin London Marathon 2013 on my doorstep and knew that this was it and I actually had to do it.
That was the start of an incredibly hard 6 months of training, sobriety, random and embarrassing fundraising events (singing in front of a room full of my colleagues is definitely up there with the most uncomfortable moments of my life but raised lots of money – thanks Challenge peeps!), lack of energy, tearful emotions, and constant hunger, but it was punctuated by beautiful moments when I would get an e-mail from justgiving.com to tell me someone else had been generous enough to sponsor my efforts. The kindness and support I have received throughout this journey from my friends, family, and even people I don’t know has been incredibly overwhelming and that support has kept me going and running for hours in the snowy British winter!
I knew I would struggle on the day of the marathon, but I had no idea just how hard it would be. The furthest I had run before the day was 22miles and I actually felt pretty good during it, but on the day of the marathon is was the first warm, sunny day of the year, turns out running in the cold snowy British Winter had not set me up very well for this and the understandably the heat made everything 10 times worse! I also got pretty carried away with the whole atmosphere and did the one thing people had warned me not to do, I went off too fast without even realising it so the first half was pretty good! After about 2 hours I reached one of the most famous bridges in the world, Tower Bridge. It was meant to be the most exciting moment and I have watched people cross this bridge year after year on TV and always imagined how incredible it must feel to run along it as a small part of London Marathon history. I was wrong, it felt horrible. I was only halfway through and the pain had just reached my legs as the excitement of the start wore off and I realised I was way ahead of my planned time, too far ahead.
The thousands of people lining the streets were just a wall of noise, the support was amazing, but I was just desperate to see people I knew. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who came along to cheer me on, seeing your faces and being able to stop and have a hug, some sweets, and some much needed words of encouragement were the only things which kept me going – even though I burst into tears whenever I saw a familiar face, you are the reason I was able to finish. And finish it I did, it took forever, although 20 minutes of that was spent queueing for the portaloos, so let’s say it took about 5 hours! But reaching Buckingham Palace and realising the adrenaline I had built up was allowing my legs to push themselves quicker and further than I imagined, crossing the line on The Mall was unbelievable, and hanging that medal around my neck was beautiful and emotional.
It is an experience I will never ever repeat (I know everyone says that but I can absolutely categorically assure you in my case it is true!) but one I will also never forget, all the tears, pain and blisters were totally worth it for my current fundraising total of £2,203 which will help thousands of vulnerable children and young people in South Africa, and I thank you all so so much for your kindness and your support, Khumza would be proud of all of you.
My fundraising page is still open until July, dig deep if you are able.
After two and half years of waiting, the construction of the Football For Hope Center feels like a dream - a dream come true.
From the time WKU was awarded the Football for Hope (FFH) Centre, to this day the road has been long, bumpy and windy but finally it is here. Now we'll have a lot more speace to work with clients.
Here are three facts why I really appreciate having the FFH Centre soon.
No more seeing them in the computer room or even one of our cars, where we would just cover the windows, so nobody could look inside.
No more meetings on the verandah or under the trees (which does have a nice flair occassionally), because now there will be office space for all WKU staff to work
No more patients walking up and down the hall with urine samples, because the new doctor's room will have a direct connection to the toilets.
And the kids will love the new artificial turf football field - that also means that their shoes will last much longer. And all the Mlungus (white people) can now play barefeet as well, without getting the biggest blisters of their lives.
For all this I extend my gratitude 1st of all to our CEO and Founder Marcus and Rogerio from Architecture for Humanity for their hard work pushing the process. And I'm also grateful to Edendale Hospital CEO Mrs Ndwandwe, streetfootballworld, FIFA, and Mayor of Pietermaritzburg, Councilor Chris Ndlela, because without them, we wouldn't be where we are right now - and I wouldn't be the happiest person in Edendale.
LATEST POSTS» November 11th, 2013
They say parting is for better reencounter» October 28th, 2013
No time like the present» October 17th, 2013
One year with WhizzKids- office work, vegetable garden and a new football pitch.» September 26th, 2013
Peering through the looking glass» September 20th, 2013
Rusha′s Research Route (RRR)» September 11th, 2013
WhizzKids United, a symbol of Mandela’s dream» July 22nd, 2013
Is it a bird, is it a plane?...» July 8th, 2013
Drogba inspired my internship choice» June 27th, 2013
Running for Khumza...» May 30th, 2013
After two and half years of waiting...
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