On March 19, I woke up very early with excitement at the fact that I was going to the Youth Leadership Programme (YLP) in Germany on invitation from the United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP). My luggage was already packed and everything I needed was in place. I was anxious to get going and meet all the friends I had made on Facebook. I went to the Health Academy to say goodbye to my colleagues and later got a ride to the airport from Ben-one of our volunteers.
My first flight was to the OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg. Here, I met up with Stacey Naris-one of the participants I met on Facebook. Stacey is a professional Namibian football player who also works for Go Girl. We boarded our flight to Zurich together. I enjoyed this flight the most because this was going to be my first time abroad.
After this 10 HOUR flight, we had to run all over the airport in order to make it to our boarding gate on time. Luckily, we made it five minutes early. We boarded our one-hour flight to Berlin, landed, collected our luggage and met up with Ben Taylor and Jamie LaFlamme who are two of the organisers of the camp. They were holding up "YLP" signs and welcomed us with both arms open. That is when I knew that I was not lost and that this could be my second home. Then I met eight other participants who came from Kenya, Nigeria and parts of Asia.
We went to Kienbaum sport centre- where we spent most of our time at the camp. I met Anna and Jairos. They were interns with UNOSDP in organising the camp. They showed us our rooms and later that day I met more participants and two facilitators from the Right to Play organisation. After that we started learning about leadership in sports and started sharing our leadership stories.
During the camp we had an excursion throughout Berlin and we learnt about the history of East and West Germany. I saw the German parliament, statues, tours and then we went to a burger restaurant where we had our lunch.
Several participants and I visited the Streetfootballworld offices since we belonged to their partner organisations. I enjoyed being in the office, got to learn a lot more about them and played some table tennis while I was there.
I also went to a high-level dinner, met representatives from Ministries of Sport from around the world, ambassadors and Mr. Willi Lemke- The United Nations Secretary Generals Special advisor on sport for development and peace. The food was delicious, the entertainment was great and the conversation was flowing for the rest of the night.
The learning and fun never stopped throughout the camp. On the last day, I was surprised to learn how the other participants thought of me through an exercise we had to do- we each had to write a comment about each person on a piece of paper. That night we danced partied, laughed at our comedians and slept late.
On departure day, I woke up early, said goodbye to some of the participants and went to breakfast. I was surprised to find that it was just me and another participant at breakfast. It was lonely and I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I never thought such a short time could influence me so positively, and I believe that sport has no barriers. It can bring people together all around the world.
On the second day of March 2012, I started working at the Health Academy as a Lay Counselor. I knew that I chose a great job but at this point I did not know how much it meant for the many youth, orphans and vulnerable children. These young people depend on us as counselors for moral support, being someone to talk and listen to their views. We also are the ones who notice their values and support them, along with complimenting them when they do a good thing.
While I was at work a few days ago, this young man walked in to do HCT. He introduced himself as Sipho Zulu (name changed), a 15 year old boy that comes from a family with four older siblings and lives with three of his brothers. His mother and father have both since passed away. His oldest brother lives in another area with his girlfriend.
Although Sipho lives with his brothers it feels as if they are tenants because his brothers live with their girlfriends and they cook in their rooms. He continuously feels left out similar to an orphan; left to cook and eat alone. Sipho still attends school and passes with good grades however no one is around to encourage and give hope or appraisal.
He values his brothers’ birthdays and buys them presents, but none of his brothers remembers his birthday; occasionally he will remind them and they will promise to give him a present but they never do. Combining all of these emotions, Sipho consistently feels neglected and even if he is short of food he would at times rather starve.
Initially his foster care guardian was his oldest brother but eventually moved to his aunt. After spending some time in his aunt’s home he returned with his brothers because he did not feel welcomed in her home. To this day, his aunt continues to receive his foster care payment; however she keeps 200 Rand and gives him whatever is left over. This money does not go very far in the way of food because he is left with all of his school fees e.g. stationary and uniforms. Every day he arrives at school with an empty lunchbox to fill up from his school’s feeding scheme in order to have food in the evening.
Siphi is now a part of the Health Academy’s OVC programme and he comes for other services such as homework club and counseling.