Working with an NGO can often come with lofty expectations of changing the world. Making the world a better place with each task accomplished and every event executed. Enlisting the support of corporate executives, community leaders and local residents to back your cause in any contributing form. These are all elements of working for a charity. However they all overlook one simple fact: helping comes in all sizes.
When we host soccer tournaments, the best moments are sharing jokes with the students and exchanging high-fives after every goal that is scored. When I go to the Health Academy, I enjoy hanging with the children on the sidelines and helping them to learn how the game of chess can be a microcosm for life. Even when I meet new people during work, the most interesting conversations are introducing them to our organization and the brainstorming of fun fundraising ideas that we can do in the future.
These are all simple interactions in life that are often taken for granted and are not emphasized in any mission statements. These instances don't immediately secure long-term funding for an organization. But these experiences are undoubtedly not only why a charity exists but also why you get involved and help. It is these moments that make you want to get up, do something and have fun while you're doing it. And for me personally it is the reason why I appreciate my time with WhizzKids United.
So if there's one thing that my position here has taught me, it's that helping is not measured by a line in the budget. It's not solidified by a number of financial contributors. Monetary donations are always humbly valued, but our work doesn't end with a number on a check. The true value of helping is the efforts aimed at making a positive difference and it can always appear in a variety of forms.
We continue our blog series this week, "Words From A WhizzKid" with a young lady who regularly attends the Health Academy. I asked her to detail a typical school day, discuss her experiences at the Health Academy and share information about the stigma of HIV among her family and friends. What transpired from our conversation was a portrait of a brave girl taking ownership of her body, mind and spirit.
This is what she shared:
I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is take a bath. Then I eat, brush my teeth, and get ready for school. I enter my school gate at 7:15AM because the gate closes at 7:30AM. School lasts for 7 hours and we go through 6 periods a day. At 2:00PM, I go home and do my homework. After I get my homework done, I go to the Health Academy.
There are lots of things happening at the Health Academy everyday. This year I played in the Mixed Gender League and did Life Skills. It is also a place where we can go and get HIV testing and even do counselling. My friends are scared to talk to counsellors that are the same age as our parents. That’s why we love the Health Academy because the counsellors are young and we can talk freely to them. Some of my friends were scared to get HIV tested but now with the help of WhizzKids United they go every other 3 months.
I have had HIV testing and I am glad I know my status (HIV negative). It is important to know because it helps you know how to take care of yourself, especially if you are HIV positive. You can live long if you do what’s right for your health and body.
Everyone I live with at home knows their status too. One relative I live with is HIV positive, so we make sure we take care of her and ourselves because we know that HIV and AIDS kills. I know a lot about HIV and AIDS from the Health Academy and I am glad I can help care for my relative.
I care about my body and health. I make sure I eat healthy and live healthy everyday. I make sure I don’t eat oily foods or eat a lot of sugar. Whizzkids United helps me exercise my body every time I go and now I even play soccer at home with my brothers.
This is something that was given to me by a WKU Health Academy client- - a friend of mine, a fighter, and a victor, who has not let his ailment get the better of him.
This is what he wrote:
I am living with an illness. I have no one by my side. I know that health care workers talk about disclosure because if you don’t disclose to someone you cause yourself harm. Yes! It hurts, but who am I to disclose to? I have no mother and I have no father. My parents passed away when I was little. Others have people to talk to but who am I to talk to?
I am unable to focus on my studies, when other kids see me and laugh. I start thinking that they are aware of my status. Sometimes if I’m having fun with my friends, I start to think that I am different from them, but the fact is that I’m the same as the rest of them it’s just that I’m HIV positive.
I began taking antiretroviral (ARV) medicine in 2005. When I first took them I thought that I was going to die but I am still alive. With the help of the WhizzKids United Health Academy staff's understanding, support, and love I have gained a new perspective of myself and my life.
My dream is to become a police officer and thanks to WKU I know that I can still reach my dream.
On October 13, I was accompanied by Ayanda, Beki, and Thuli from our partner organisation MCDI, and WKU Life Skills Trainers Phumlani and Sli, to two schools in Osindisweni, a picturesque rural area north of Durban, to run our outcome evaluation post-questionnaires. We drove through a very hilly area on dirt roads and I was thankful to have the bakkie (pickup truck for those unfamiliar with South African dialect).
We arrived at Ogunjini Primary School, where Phumlani and Sli had recently finished running the 'On the Ball' programme, and ran our post-questionnaire with one class in Grade 5, 6 and 7 - the same class sections that had completed the pre-questionnaire. There was a complication because both Grade 5 classes shared a single, crowded classroom, but only one class had been sampled to do the questionnaires. So we had to ask half the kids to either do homework quietly while we ran the questionnaire with the others!
I was impressed that the kids still remembered my name and what country I'm from, even though I had only met them once before, back in July when we did the pre-questionnaires. We were also impressed with the professional attitude and dedication of the staff at this school.
From there, we moved on to Mjoji Primary School, which was about to start the 'On the Ball' programme, to do pre-questionnaires. I felt that this school desperately needed a programme like ours because the school is very underresourced. The classrooms are so empty - basically just desks and a blackboard. In one class we found the teacher asleep. When I recall my primary school classrooms growing up in Canada, which were always well decorated and full of books, stationery, art supplies, etc., with a highly motivated, well-paid teacher, I realize how fortunate I was.
I think that the 'On the Ball' programme is bringing a taste of a better kind of education to these kids, and opening their eyes to the fact that learning is more than sitting in a desk staring at a blackboard. I hope we are opening kids' eyes to the fact that learning can be fun and can open the door to all kinds of opportunities in life.
After months of exciting and competitive league play, our Mixed Gender League (MGL) wrapped up on October 27th at the Health Academy, with Chelsea beating Liverpool by a score of 2-0.
In the end, it was more than just crowning an MGL Team Champion. It was about the respect, sportsmanship, and confidence that grew between the girls and boys competing on the same football teams and pitch. Following the final game, the Mixed Gender League Coordinators spoke with a few of the MGL players.
Zanele, a girl from Chelsea, said she was nervous about playing with the boys and the first couple games her male teammates never passed to her. Her male teammate, Ngcebo, said he thought football was just for boys and he didn’t think they would win many games with girls being on his same team.
Now, 14-weeks later, Ngcebo admits he learned that girls can play football too. He went on to explain that it was actually fun to play with the girls because he learned to pass the football and work together with his teammates. Zanele happily reports, “now we play as a team and we respect each other and play together.”
Following the final game, it was apparent from the smiles on the girls’ faces that they were proud of their achievements on the football pitch with the boys. The MGL had heightened their self-esteem and confidence. The same can be said for the boys. Bheki said: “When I first came to WhizzKids I was depressed but after playing football every week I am happy and feel good.” The Health Academy staff has heard similar stories from the boys and girls playing in the MGL.
Mission accomplished for WKU and the Health Academy staff. Now, it is our hope that these lessons of gender equality and growth in self-esteem that transpired on the football pitch will be carried into the daily lives of the MGL footballers.