Peering through the looking glass
posted by Matthew Pretty on 26 September 2013
The first of the news boards produced by the children
The first of the news boards produced by the children

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.  

Is it a bird, is it a plane?...
posted by Matthew Pretty on 22 July 2013
Photo from the workshop in February
Photo from the workshop in February

“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!

From London to Edendale...
posted by Matthew Pretty on 13 May 2013
Action shot from the tournament
Action shot from the tournament

I’ve been in KwaZulu-Natal for about a month now and wow has time flown! Towards the end of 2012 whilst sitting at my desk in an office in London I came up with the idea of volunteering abroad. Coming from a background working in fundraising for an international development charity I was hoping that taking the position of Programme Coordinator with WhizzKids United would give me more direct work on the ground with our beneficiaries. I thought giving something back to those less advantaged than me whilst gaining valuable experience in an amazing place would be a truly worthwhile experience, and I’m delighted to say that I was right!

During the last 4 weeks working with the dedicated WhizzKids United programme team I have been involved with several different projects all helping the residents of the Edendale township, just outside of Pietermaritzburg, in different ways. One of my major projects has been to compile a database of other local service providers working in the HIV and AIDS sectors. We are hoping that rather than all working independently, WhizzKids United can lead the way in collaborating with these organisations, giving local residents fuller HIV and AIDS treatment, care and support services, as well as helping orphans and vulnerable children in the area.

Over the last week however, the programme team has been working hard to organise a football tournament at Sinamuva Primary School. We organise these tournaments once pupils have completed our 4 session ‘On the Ball’ Life Skills curriculum, an innovative programme based around football games and drills which helps to develop the children’s ability to deal with important issues like discrimination, abuse and HIV and AIDS, and encourages them in thinking about and working towards goals in their lives. On this occasion we decided to combine the tournament with HIV testing and counselling sessions for the children; a great opportunity to reach so many vulnerable children. Having already seen how passionate children in Edendale were about playing football, and how engaged they were with the Life Skills programme, I was really looking forward to the tournament which we held last Saturday 4th May.

The morning of the tournament started with the children being organised into random teams of 5 – an equal mix of girls and boys – and allocated a team which took part in the 2010 South Africa World Cup. When organising the teams for my group at the start it was fun to see the difference in reactions from the team that were allocated the 2010 winners Spain compared to the team who got Honduras! That said, I did feel that allocating the children with countries they may not have heard of provided an educational lesson in itself and fostered the message of equality which WhizzKids United endeavours to teach.

The tournament was a success and culminated in a final between Germany and the USA, of which Team Germany came out on top. It was great to see how excited the children were about playing in the final but also heart-warming seeing all the other students getting behind their peers.

The day was about more than the final and the winners of the tournament though. For the children it was the graduation from the WhizzKids United Life Skills programme; reinforcing the messages which they had learned, providing an opportunity for HIV testing and counselling, and giving a fun day out for all of the children.

Being a part of the tournament was a great way to finish my first month with WhizzKids Unnited. I’m already looking forward to my next one and all that comes between!

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