Running for Khumza...
posted by Lauren Kocher on 27 June 2013
Lauren Kocher at the Virgin London Marathon
Lauren Kocher at the Virgin London Marathon

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.

www.justgiving.com/Lauren-Kocher

WhizzKids Mixed Gender League gets off to a flying start!
posted by Lauren Kocher on 1 August 2011

By Khumbulani Buthelezi and Zanele Thabethe

As you know the new Mixed Gender Football League was launched on 18th July 2011 as part of WhizzKid United's Mandela Day celebrations, during which we all sang happy birthday to Madiba, the staff got beaten pretty convincingly in a game against the kids, and the Mixed Gender Football League began with a match between 'Liverpool' and 'Chelsea', with Chelsea winning 2-1.

As the Coordinators of the Mixed Gender Football League, we would like to inform you of the excitement that has been taking place in the first 2 weeks of the league.

Since the first match, 34 goals have been scored, with an average of 5 goals scored daily in each game. The most exciting game so far has been the game between 'Barcelona' and 'Madrid', which ended with 'Madrid' winning the game 6 goals to 2. Whilst the highest number of goals in one game were scored last Friday when 'Chelsea' scored 9 goals against 'Manchester' - doesn't bode well for Man U fans with the upcoming premiership season about to begin back in the UK!

However, it is important to remember that the Mixed Gender Football League was not just implemented so that kids could play football. The two main objectives are to a) overcome the stereotype that states women should only be allowed to be housekeepers, whilst males are able to be out chasing their dreams, and b) to emphasise gender equality and eliminate gender-based violence.

WhizzKids United is an organisation which promotes HIV prevention through the medium of football, therefore we are also using the Mixed Gender Football Legue as a tool that will not only give females the opportunity to play football with males, but also to equip the youth of today with Life Skills. Therefore, alongside the league, we will be conducting Life Skills classes with all the participants using the 3-session 'On the Ball' manual.

This is a very important initiative to be a part of and we can't wait to continue with the action-packed schedule and hope that the goal rush keeps coming!

WhizzKids Celebrates Mandela Day!!
posted by Lauren Kocher on 19 July 2011
WhizzKids Celebrating Nelson Mandela′s Birthday!
WhizzKids Celebrating Nelson Mandela′s Birthday!

'There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children' - Nelson Mandela

On 18th July 2011 Nelson Mandela turned 93 years old, in honour of the father of a nation, WhizzKids United, along with many others, spent 67 minutes celebrating his 67 years of fighting for the rights of humanity. The idea is to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good.

As a member of Sport for Social Change KZN, WhizzKids United offered their support to Mandela with the revival of our Mixed Gender Football League at the WhizzKids United Health Academy. In our inaugural Mixed Gender Football League, 62 out of 64 participants received HIV counseling and testing services as well as life skills training courtesy of the Health Academy. With the return of our Mixed Gender Football League, our purpose is to continue promoting the Health Academy as a center for sexual health and reproductive services while standing as a firm advocate for gender equality.

Prior to the first game, the staff played a Mixed Gender Football game against some of the kids who regularly visit the Health Academy, whilst the staff put in a good show, the children won the game pretty convincingly with a final scoreline of 3-1!

Following this game all 48 children involved in the new Mixed Gender Football League joined in a few rousing choruses of 'Happy Birthday' in both English and Zulu, led by our Life Skills Trainer and Choir Master, Neli, along with a dance across the football pitch. The highly-anticipated first game got underway at 4pm between 'Liverpool' and 'Chelsea' and whilst the Mixed Gender Football League will continue for another 8 weeks, WhizzKids United ensured that all the children involved were able to gain extra special treatment on Mandela day, enjoying food and music and an electrifying atmosphere!

It was a great day and on behalf of all of WhizzKids I would like to wish Nelson Mandela a fantastic birthday and we look forward to many more Mandela Days!

'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world' - Nelson Mandela

Youth Friendly Services Workshops run successfully in Jozini
posted by Lauren Kocher on 6 June 2011

By Phakamani Nguse

I travelled to Jozini on the 21st to the 26th of May 2011 to attend and help facilitate the running of workshops for the WhizzKids United staff and Clinic Nurses in the area in order to ensure the effective running of Youth Frieddly Services.

We arrived at our accommodation, Lebombo Lodge on Sunday evening and began teaching the Ophondweni Youth Development Initiative staff on the 23rd and 24th of May.

The topics we covered were: programme objectives, programme strategy, the need of the programme, the method, stakeholders, the WhizzKids United Health Academy Services, WKU overview, stages of adolesence, why HIV prevention can fail, the challenges we face in the community, understanding adolescents and pre- and post-counselling of an adolescent.

On the 25th and 26th May 2011 the same topics were covered with the nurses from clinics in Ophondweni, Khwambuzi, Nondabuya, and Ndumo.

I was also able to meet staff from AMREF, the Ophondweni Youth Development Initiative, and Hascvold in Jozini. It was wonderful to meet so many different people, especially the nurses whom I was able to share information and opinions with.

Jozini was a place I thought of going to. It is a great pleasure for WhizzKids United staff like myself to be given the opportunity to go to Jozini to introduce the Youth Friendly Services to the community there. I feel that they will take it as a challenge to their community and their clinics and ensure that all clinics are able to deal with youth by developing Youth Friendly Services.

HCT Campaign a great success!
posted by Lauren Kocher on 23 May 2011

On Saturday, seven of the WhizzKids United Health Academy staff, along with three of the office staff from Durban organised and successfully ran an HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) Campaign in Ingqwangele High School in Snating, a semi rural community South East of Edendale Hospital.

The idea of the campaign was to reach adolescents who were further away from the Health Academy than those who are able to attend for HCT on a regular basis.

We arrived at 9am to begin putting up our 4 gazebos (kindly leant to us by the Department of Health) and already there was a queue of young men waiting to be tested and to be given appointments for Male Medical Circumsicion at Edendale Hospital. As a result of an hour of house-to-house leafleting, the school became a hive of activity, there was a large group of older clients who were there to have their vital signs tested along with being checked for diabetes, whilst in a separate classroom throughout the day various counsellors were conducting HIV and STI education classes for the adolescents who attended which included condom demonstrations and distribution.

In each gazebo counsellors rotated and treated each patient confidentially whilst conducting the HCT, one lesson we have learnt from this experience however, is that we need more counsellors as those who were there worked extremely hard with very few breaks in order to ensure that every patient was counselled and tested fully. In the end 69 people took HCT which is an incredible number considering we were expecting around 20! 3 of those 69 tested positive. A sexual risk assessment was done on 23 youths whilst an OVC Assessment was done on 16 youths, 4 of those being identified as OVCs and therefore being given a Health Academy appointment card in order that they would come into the Health Academy to meet with the OVC Coordinator

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those that took part. The Health Academy staff who were involved volunteered to work on their Saturday and worked incredibly hard in order to make it a success, some even counselled 10-15 young people within the day. Whilst it was tiring, it was completely worthwhile and all those involved should be very proud of the work they did.

WKU Health Academy News!
posted by Lauren Kocher on 4 March 2011

So, it has been a few weeks since I arrived at WhizzKids and I have definately started to get into the swing of things! I have begun working as the liaison between the WKU Health Academy and the Durban office. This has been great because I am able to visit the staff at the WKU Health Academy at least once a week so we can talk through ideas or issues, which ensures that everyone in both areas are on the same page, which is obviously essential for an organisation like ours. Plus I love going to the Health Academy because everyone is friendly and happy and the environment is so welcoming, it makes me realise why children always go back there for the services provided, because they are treated with respect and warmth, and I believe that is one of the most important elements to the WKU Health Academy.

A great piece of news from the WKU Health Academy is that a few of the staff went on a computer course in order to learn Microsoft Office to a high level, and the best thing was that every one of them passed with a 1st class, which according to the course administrators has never happened before! The staff have also begun drum majorettes for the girls and boys who are not as interested in playing football, this is fantastic as I have already seen a big increase in children attending the WKU Health Academy and using the services there thanks to the new activities they can become involved in.

We are also in the process of co-ordinating our involvement in the national HIV, Counselling, and Testing (HCT) programme. This takes a great deal of organisation and time but will certainly be worth it in the end as the final goal is to test 322,000 in the uMgungundlovu district of KwaZulu-Natal in 2011. This will mean, through our involvement, a great deal more children and young people attending the WKU Health Academy in order to receive their treatments and counselling, and as the WKU Health Academy is able to provide such a safe and non-discriminatory environment, this can only be a good thing.

I have also been working on fundraising proposals which is hard work but again, will be worth it in the end! I attended my first corporate breakfast yesterday (well the first in which I haven't been one of the waiting staff!) which was interesting and very worthwhile in terms of networking.

So things have been pretty much go go go since I have arrived which is great, tiring, but great! I definately feel like one of the WhizzKids family and can't wait to see the work I am doing come to fruition.

Another newbie!
posted by Lauren Kocher on 2 February 2011
My first trip to Umlazi
My first trip to Umlazi

Hi! My name is Lauren and last week I spent 2 days travelling to get to Durban to join the Whizzkids Utd team!

I heard about Whizzkids through One to One Children's Fund who I interned for in the Summer and was very excited when I found out I would be able to come out and help with the hugely important programmes that are run by this small team.

I have just finished an MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and am hoping that the knowledge and skills I gained from this, One to One, and my previous voluntary work in Ghana and South Africa, will be useful to Whizzkids and will add something to the organisation.

This week has been spent learning more about Whizzkids and what they do, I was lucky enough to be able to visit Umlazi and observe a Life Skills lesson in full flow which was fantastic, I feel it is very important to be able to physically see how the work we are doing is affecting children and schools in more neglected areas. I was also able to go along to a meeting with a school in which we are hoping to run the Life Skills classes, the meeting was fantastic as both the department head and deputy principal were extremely receptive and could not wait for us to start.

The volunteer house is great, everyone has been really welcoming and friendly and have their own stories to tell which I am looking forward to hearing more about.

My experiences so far have been very positive, aside from the bright pink sunburn I gained on my first trip to the beach! I am very much looking forward to becoming more involved with Whizzkids (as well as spending more time on the beach in an attempt to become brown rather than pink!).

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