On June 18th five students, plus the Head of School (and her husband) from Greens Farms Academy (GFA), an independent school in Westport, Connecticut, arrived in Durban at the invitation of Marcus, ready to volunteer with and learn more about WhizzKids United. Imagined from the very beginning as a service learning trip with the possibility of some kind of partnership between GFA and WhizzKids, the trip has been a life changing experience from the very beginning.
Our first experience was a football tournament in which a number of teams competed while over to one side, WhizzKids staff conducted testing for HIV as well as providing counseling. We were immediately struck by the open and very friendly attitudes of the children, all of whom had multiple questions about the USA and the lives of the GFA students. This was a perfect example of kids connecting with kids across different cultures and life experiences, and the conversations were broadening for all.
For most of the week, the GFA "team" worked alongside the life skills trainers as they worked with students either in their schools or in the Health Academy. We visited schools where WhizzKids and the work they do on several levels offers hope and often a life line to the children. We saw first hand the effect of the program, the importance of the adults connected with WhizzKids who serve as counselors, teachers, and role models and the extraordinary dedication and commitment of all who are involved with WhizzKids.
The week culminated with a football tournament at a rural school where against a backdrop of undulating hills and scattered houses, the students played several games until the best team won. The whole school came out to watch and this seemed a fitting end tour visit, with GFA students helping the WhizzKids staff in an atmosphere of respect and admiration for the work they do and for the students with whom they work.
We are deeply grateful to Marcus and all the WhizzKids staff for their great spirit and for their humanity.
Greens Farms Academy began as an independent day school in 1925 in Westport, Connecticut and has currently close to 700 students from surrounding towns. Janet Hartwell is the Head of School since 2003. Janet 's goal ist to help all students to develop a global perspective.
During the last weeks I had the chance to experience and learn about WhizzKids United’s (WKU) extraordinary work in South Africa. After visiting their Health Academy in Edendale, I joined them for some tournaments in Oakford and Umlazi. It was an amazing experience to see more than 200 boys and girls playing football together and cheering at each other!
But let me introduce myself first: My name is Johanna, I am from Germany and I am currently volunteering in South Africa. Through WhizzKids United I learned about the challenges coming along with the HIV & AIDS epidemic, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, the north-eastern province of the country that is the most affected area worldwide!
Experiencing how the concept of sports and development is put into practice at WhizzKids United, I found that their approach to teach life skills to young people by using the language of football seems really promising. After completing a life skills curriculum at school, the programme ends with a big world-cup style tournament for the kids.
We were really lucky with the weather on all the tournament days – no rain and the South African sun blazing on us. Smaller obstacles, like knee-high grass on the field in Oakford, also couldn’t stop the tournaments to take place. With the help of the school caretakers and the WKU team engaging in some morning gardening activity, the tournament started with only a slight delay and the kids loved it! Tension grew really high during the penalty shootouts (and we had a lot of those that day), especially when keepers had to stand with their back to the striker, only guessing to which corner the shot might be placed!
The Umlazi tournaments showed off an interesting difference between the younger and older students when it comes to the idea of team play. Boys and girls of a local Primary School played really well together in teams and supported each other, whereas in a tournament of High School students, boys dominated the games and gender inequality became somehow obvious. Still, also the Umlazi tournaments were a great experience and the kids and students involved had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, my second visit to Umlazi was somehow spoiled by a car break-in where some belongings of WKU team members were stolen. To me, this was a reminder that organisations like WhizzKids United mainly work in areas, where life is not as easy and safe as where I am from, although I don’t feel insecure or scared when passing through townships or getting in touch with people who live there.
All in all the tournaments were a great experience I will never forget because of the smiles and the joy the students brought with them to the pitch.