Nothing could have prepared me for my stay in South Africa, and quite frankly I didn’t know what to expect. The common knowledge on Africa as a continent, or the stereotype, usually revolves around poverty, safaris, extreme heat and diseases (HIV in particular). What I wasn’t told before coming here is the overwhelming passion, love and smiling faces that you meet every day. There is a mixture of very different cultures living in harmony even after all the history behind South Africa. This might disappoint some, however there aren’t any tigers chilling at the traffic lights, and people don’t get from A to Z on an elephant. There are however, little thieving monkeys, who do pop out of nowhere to grab any piece of fruit left lying around!
WhizzKids United’s house is situated in Durban, close to the beach. Durban has everything a developed western city would have; bars, malls, football pitches, 6 aside pitches, restaurants etc. There are no apparent signs of the poverty in Durban, in the presence of the buzzing atmosphere on Fridays and Saturdays. Amsterdam, the local bar just down the road has been the highlight of my Friday nights in Durban so far! The office is a ten minute drive from the house, also situated in an urban environment, just off Florida road, which itself is full of bars and cool restaurants. The reality of what really goes on in South Africa doesn’t hit you until you drive to Edendale, 70 km from Durban. This is where the Health Academy is located, providing adolescents with HIV treatment, HIV tests and psychological support. The staff is super friendly, and the kids always have a smile on their face. It is incredible to see, despite very poor living standards (compared to the west and even to Durban) these kids can smile, and enjoy what they love doing, which is football.
In my first week, I helped out coach Brian in his coaching, training for the life skills coaches of the health academy. We performed basic football drills, which I had done before. However, I had never linked football drills to deep lying messages, which are designed to give the kids hope, teach them life skills, and teamwork. Some of the kids didn’t have shoes, some of the kids were bare footed and most of the kids just had slippers on! They performed the drills perfectly, and the skills they could pull off with flip-flops were impressive; I personally would have definitely broken a bone trying to play in flip-flops.
I’ve met great people, and continue in doing so! It’s been a definite eye opener, in terms of what to prioritize in life. I’ve had a fantastic three weeks so far, and am looking forward to the remaining weeks I have left here. I’m looking forward to doing whatever I can, to try to make a little difference in the lives here. Last night whilst watching the news I heard a South African man being interviewed on AIDS and about the use of protection. He said ‘’I already have HIV, why should I use a condom?! I’m already dying’’. It is unfortunately a fight against extreme ignorance, a lack of education and poverty. However, one has to try to be the change one wants to see in these people and every little step towards progress leaves South Africa a better nation, than what it was yesterday.