It's amazing how fast time flies! Eight months ago, I arrived in South Africa excited, terribly nervous yet ready to contribute to WhizzKids United. I didn't have any grand expectations beforehand. But, I just wanted to make sure that when my time here ended, I could walk away with fond memories and the ability to say that I worked for a great cause. As I prepare to return to the United States, I can definitely say that I will always cherish my experiences and the platforms we have to support the youth of South Africa.
My position with WhizzKids United has allowed me to do so much in a short span of time. From utilizing soccer to foster youth development to representing our NGO in various places, I have been truly blessed to take part in a multitude of different tasks and projects. And the best part is to have the backing of a dedicated and diverse team rooting for you and willing to help you every step of the way. Without the help of my colleagues, there would be no way that I could do any of the things I've achieved!
Plus, there's no better feeling than to actually see the smiles on children's faces as a result of your work. It's the exact moment when you see a child's eyes light up by simply providing a ball, goals, bibs and a pitch for him and his classmates. From that point on, you can just sit back and enjoy the on-field competition, hilarity and attempts of emulating their favorite players like Rooney, Beckham or Tshabalala. Whether its the school grounds or our Health Academy, its a scene that never gets old and a constant reminder of how sport can positively impact young lives.
To speak bluntly, it sucks leaving such a great organisation behind. But, I see WhizzKids United only getting better and stronger in the near future. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to work within a team of strong and inspiring individuals. In addition, I am happy that I had the chance to work for the purpose of "bringing football to life." Thank you, WhizzKids United! It has been a great privilege to work with you in serving the youth of South Africa!
It's 7:40AM on a very brisk Saturday morning. Your legs feel like they're going to fall off. Your nose has turned into a leaky faucet. You can't put together a sensible complete sentence and each gasp for air feels like your last. Fortunately, one thing brings you a great sense of solace and achievement: the congratulatory sign that indicates that you successfully reached Uhuru Peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest point (5,895m) in Africa.
On February 18th, I safely reached the summit and conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro for WhizzKids United. In a span of five days, I reached the famed "roof of Africa" by traveling, hiking and climbing through five uniquely different environments. These environments included a rain forest (very similar to a scene from LOST), a heathland, a moorland, an alpine desert and an ice-capped mountaintop. With the help of dedicated expert guides and great friends made along this journey, this climb will definitely be an experience remembered for a lifetime.
In addition to ascending to the top, the fundraising component of this project has also achieved the same great results. With the combination of online and offline donations, the WhizzKids United Health Academy will be receiving over a total of US$1400 to further support their feeding programme for the orphans and vulnerable children of the Edendale community. Furthermore, the Health Academy will also receive additional donated soccer items courtesy of our friends at Earthmother Organic. 100% of all funds and gifts will be delivered to the Health Academy for the children under the aforementioned programme.
Now imagine this.
It's 12:21PM on a warm Monday afternoon. You're sitting in a little garden patio. You watch hotel guests from all over the world walk around and prepare for their upcoming climb. Your chapped lips are recovering from the weekend's strong mountain winds. Your t-shirt feels a little loose because you probably lost nearly three kilograms of body weight. But the smile on your face cannot be erased.
I am graciously thankful for each and every person who helped me along the way in this effort. Whether you donated, spread the word or encouraged me personally, please know that I humbly appreciate your warm kindness. The success of "Conquering Kilimanjaro for WhizzKids United" is a tribute to your heartfelt generosity. So, on behalf of my team in Durban and the Health Academy, thank you for believing in me, this project and our work. Thank you for helping me to conquer Kilimanjaro!
It all started with a conversation over dinner. Four friends patiently waiting for their meals and discussing potential fundraising ideas for WhizzKids United. During our brainstorming session, Lauren jokingly blurted out about how cool it would be if we could climb Mt. Kilimanjaro as a fundraising event. As we all laughed at the thought of scaling the highest mountain in Africa for charity, the idea resonated inside me and I just couldn't let it go. Nearly two and half months removed from that dinner conversation, I am truly proud to say that I will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in four days on behalf of the WhizzKids United Health Academy.
In the last month, I have prepared for the mountain by exercising consistently in order to build up my strength and stamina. My workout regimen has consisted of going to the gym early in the morning and alternating my focus each visit between upper body and lower body exercises. With my goal in sight to reach Kilimanjaro's summit, my morning workouts quickly transformed into tough two-a-day sessions (going to the gym before and after work). To further spice up my workouts, I also began to play full-court basketball regularly again and added yoga sessions into the mix. Let's not also forget to mention my refusal to get burgers and milkshakes from Steers during my training - probably the hardest part of my training.
But, beside the physical labor in the gym, the outpouring of love and support I received from family and friends worldwide has been tremendous. When I started this project, I established a small target fundraising goal of $1000USD for our youth health clinic. However, the positive response of the project was so overwhelming that I was able to exceed that amount for the Health Academy in a matter of two weeks. At the present moment, I have raised over $1250USD with the gracious help of my family, friends, colleagues and supporters. All of the money donated for this effort will be used to help feed the children that utilize the Health Academy.
I cannot stress enough how appreciative and humble I am of everyone who contributed to this great project. So many people have helped me along the way to get to this point and endorse this cause. Whether it was a donation, using your own social media page to share the news, keeping me motivated or giving gifts for our kids, I sincerely thank each and everyone of you for helping me to conquer Kilimanjaro for WhizzKids United. If you would like to support this cause, then please check out my Givengain page (US) or my Just Giving page (UK/Int'l). But, from the bottom of my heart, thank you all for your kindness in this project.
I'll see you at the top...
On December 9, 2011, Premier League football club Maritzburg United teamed up with WhizzKids United to celebrate its HIV youth programme in partnership with the Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. The event commemorated the success of the Health Academy and rewarded adolescents who attended the youth-friendly clinic throughout the year and successfully adhered to living a positive and healthy lifestyle. Over 400 guests, including school principals, business leaders and local students, attended our function and contributed into making this an incredibly successful event.
The players from Maritzburg United that joined the festivities were Rheece Evans, Byrone Hendricks, Kurt Lentjies, Kulegani "Chillies" Madondo, Michael Morton and Jabulani "JB" Ncubeni. In addition, goalkeeper coach Ronnie Kanalelo and second assistant coach Ashwin Sutton were also present for the event. The players and coaches not only congratulated the youth of the Edendale area but also provided coaching tips on how to improve their football skills. Sutton supervised all the on-field activity as Madondo, Lentjies and Kanalelo led the dribbling station for the children. Evans and Morton worked on passing while Hendricks and Ncubeni focused on headers.
The team also participated in a ceremony which rewarded the youth for their dedication to living positive and healthy lives. The players and coaches of Maritzburg United handed out certificates, distributed gifts and exchanged hugs and high-fives with the award recipients. Each WhizzKid received a holiday gift bag that included a complimentary ticket to the upcoming December 17th home game against the Jomo Cosmos in Pietermaritzburg. And to everyones delight all attendees were given a complimentary ticket to Saturday's game as well. This event marked the second time this year that the club joined WhizzKids United to stress how football is greatly beneficial for youth development.
The youth of the Health Academy loved Maritzburg United and enjoyed every single moment with the professional footballers. The ability for these children to interact and experience this great group of athletes and coaches in their very own community is what made the event truly special. Thank you to Maritzburg United for not only contributing to the success of our event but also for making a great impact on the children and community of Edendale.
Last week Stefan and I traveled north to Rustenburg to work with our Life Skills trainers and host tournaments for four different schools. A total of 684 children played in our tournaments while a countless amount of students watched daily from the sidelines. Each day presented us with the opportunity to learn more about each school, interact more closely with teachers and principals and have fun with the participating children. But my fondest memories of the week were the moments when the children became fully absorbed with the sport of soccer. In these moments, you could see firsthand the love of the game.
Every morning began with the same routine: organizing groups of teams in a World Cup-like fashion. But, once the whistle blew, the children were enthralled in the action of their games. You could often see bodies colliding when dozens of players attempt headers on soccer balls that were out of reach. Shoes flying off of kids' feet when trying to strike the ball for a goal. Faces grimacing and yells of frustration when either shots were inches away from scoring or goalies missed a key save. However, once goals were scored, then it was pure jubilation for one side and utter devastation for the other.
The intensity only picked up once the knockout rounds began. Due to the heat of the moment and the day, beads of sweat ran down players' heads as many male players took off their shirts and played in just their colored pullover bibs. Many boys and girls alike would forgo playing in shoes and just keep going in either their socks or barefoot; not even thinking twice of playing on dirt surfaces with few patches of grass and sharp rocks. At this stage, many matches were decided by shootouts that showcased those who could rise above pressure and perform in truly clutch moments that led to award-winning play.
Every day, champions were crowned and achievements were recognized. But, you couldn't erase the smiles off of the children's faces. Like all of our tournaments, every child received a medal. But I could feel their enthusiasm heightened even more once I placed a medal around their neck. It was a feeling that satisfied me and validated my work at the end of each day. My colleague and I were exhausted once we returned to Durban from our weeklong trip but we witnessed firsthand the passion that lies within the sport.
A huge thank you goes out to the following: Lekwakwa Primary School, L.D. Matshego Primary School, Rutanang Primary School, Paardekraal Primary School and our Rustenburg Life Skill Trainers (Buang Mokoatsi, Elsie Nolekwa, Moeketsi Sello and Sello Hlongwane).
Working with an NGO can often come with lofty expectations of changing the world. Making the world a better place with each task accomplished and every event executed. Enlisting the support of corporate executives, community leaders and local residents to back your cause in any contributing form. These are all elements of working for a charity. However they all overlook one simple fact: helping comes in all sizes.
When we host soccer tournaments, the best moments are sharing jokes with the students and exchanging high-fives after every goal that is scored. When I go to the Health Academy, I enjoy hanging with the children on the sidelines and helping them to learn how the game of chess can be a microcosm for life. Even when I meet new people during work, the most interesting conversations are introducing them to our organization and the brainstorming of fun fundraising ideas that we can do in the future.
These are all simple interactions in life that are often taken for granted and are not emphasized in any mission statements. These instances don't immediately secure long-term funding for an organization. But these experiences are undoubtedly not only why a charity exists but also why you get involved and help. It is these moments that make you want to get up, do something and have fun while you're doing it. And for me personally it is the reason why I appreciate my time with WhizzKids United.
So if there's one thing that my position here has taught me, it's that helping is not measured by a line in the budget. It's not solidified by a number of financial contributors. Monetary donations are always humbly valued, but our work doesn't end with a number on a check. The true value of helping is the efforts aimed at making a positive difference and it can always appear in a variety of forms.
September 21st of each year marks the observance of World Peace Day. On this day, it is a celebration of unity, nonviolence and cohesion among nations; thus having intentions of being a ceasefire between disputing parties. Here at WhizzKids United (WKU), we celebrated World Peace Day 2011 in our very own fashion. Nevertheless, Mother Nature had her way of leaving her own mark on the party.
In partnership with Peace One Day, our celebration of World Peace Day served as a way to bring the Edendale community together, further promote the WhizzKids United Health Academy and also endorse the Mixed Gender Football League (MGFL). As children from nearby schools entered the Health Academy, they were all treated to the celebration's opening match: FC Barcelona vs. team WKU. The rain did not show any mercy on the game's participants. But, both teams put on an entertaining display that excited all in attendance.
Although the stronger-bodied WhizzKids United side consisted of Durban office members and Life Skills trainers, they still had their work cut out for them. FC Barcelona is currently the first place team in the MGFL and their precision, passion and chemistry clearly showed how they got there. In spite of a great effort, team WKU were just simply outclassed by the youngsters as FC Barcelona sealed their victory by a score of 3-2. While the game was in progress, the children in attendance were also in for another treat.
To their surprise, members of Maritzburg United Football Club also arrived to join the festivities. The heavy rain was clearly not enough to erase the smiles off the children's faces. Midfielders Michael Morton and Kulegani "Chiilies" Madondo, striker Diyo Sibisi, defender Peter Petersen and coaches Ashwin Sutton and Ronnie Kanalelo were all on hand to greet the children, exchange pleasantries, share stories and motivational tips on dreaming big and working hard. Even with Mother Nature at her worst, the men of Maritzburg United stood their ground and answered questions from an engaged audience.
After being drenched in the rain, Maritzburg United went inside the Health Academy to learn more about its purpose and the background of WKU. Meanwhile, the festivities outside still continued with improptu pick-up games, a singing choir and performances of Indlamu, a traditional Xulu dance. Lastly, the celebration concluded with a beautiful group photo of the children, WhizzKids United and Maritzburg United all soaking in a great day.
Our celebration of World Peace Day was quite memorable, wet but extremely fun. Thank you to all who contributed to make this day amazing. Thank you to the staff of the Health Academy, our Life Skills trainers, Durban office members, Peace One Day and Maritzburg United!
For as long as I can remember I have always been a fan of hip-hop music. I'm constantly captivated by how a lyricist can control a smooth or bass-heavy beat with his words and flow delivery. It excites me and keeps me wanting to hear more. Many themes play out in this genre of music. Yet, in my personal opinion, the biggest themes that underlines this art are the character of an "underdog" and the pride in one's beginnings. With these two elements, this is where hip-hop and townships can become synonymous.
In America, a township would be simply classified as "a ghetto." A downtrodden neighborhood that pales in comparison to the glitz and glamour of a metropolitan city. Especially in the case of Durban, many would easily overlook townships as the dividing line between the wealthy and the poor. In addition, a township would be nothing more than an area for non-whites. But, even from my three weeks here, I can tell you that townships are a lot more. Just as "hoods" are described in rap and hip-hop, townships offer more than what really meets the eye.
As a member of WhizzKids United, I have the opportunity to often work in the Health Academy in Edendale, a township one hour away from Durban. The Health Academy is not only a one-stop shop for after-school activities but also a center for youth counseling and various medical services. Everytime I go there, I see pieces of my favorite music come to life. In Edendale, its not peculiar to see people walking barefoot whereas music will portray a scene of sneakers hanging from telephone wires. Often advertised streets and corners, in the music, are found in Edendale's dirt roads and paths still under development. Projects and housing apartments glorified by rappers come in the form of small, three- and four-room shacks made out of mud and brick.
Your heart can quickly sink by what you see in Edendale. But I also see things that my favorite music doesn't speak enough about. Children, walking in droves on these dirt roads, to school where farm animals roam freely. Hardworking mothers and fathers doing all they can to provide for their families and keep children out of harm's way. The ambition to make Edendale a better place lies in the heart of the community regardless of a person's role or professional title. Just like hip-hop advocates, it would be extremely easy to just accept current conditions and the status quo. But, you can strongly feel that failure in not an option due to the pride in Edendale and the pursuit for progression.
Similar to how hip-hop rose from the bottom ranks, I have the same faith that in time Edendale will do the same and not be considered just "a township" anymore. You can see it in the children as they share with you their dreams of becoming a renowned soccer player, doctor or teacher. You can see it in the adults as they sacrifice and chase new opportunities for the betterment of themselves and their families. Even working alongside the people of the Health Academy gives you a sense that men and women, old and young alike, whom are on the pulse of pushing Edendale to new heights.
Everyday, I consider myself very lucky to be here and see all this firsthand. No book in the world could ever fully detail Edendale. But, mark my words. In due time, like the "underdog" often characterized in hip-hop, Edendale will also rise from being just a township.
On July 23rd, our CEO Marcus McGilvray and friend Anthony "Danny" Coxhead began the Mongol Rally, a 10,000 mile excursion from the United Kingdom to Mongolia. The purpose of this journey is to raise funds and awareness for WhizzKids United. Yet, in this long travel, Marcus and Danny will have to encounter five mountain ranges, three deserts and a numberless amount of obstacles before reaching the finish line.
For their first week on the road, Marcus was able to communicate with the staff via email about his daily whereabouts and observations. Please read along as we present a collection of Marcus' insights from the first week of the 2011 Mongol Rally:
I've just seen on the news that buying cheap locally distilled vodka can be dangerous to your health and lead to blindness. As I said to Danny as we packed the car for Mongolia this morning that news is a bit late.
Made the first 150 miles to Goodwood - practically broke the back of this rally! Got two chips on the windscreen but no fish!
Of the 200 odd cars taking part in the Mongol Rally we ended up being second to last on the grid. Driving much of the night and day at a steady 55mph (saving on fuel!) we've now reached Colditz in Germany! It looks closed though so we might be the first Brits ever to break in!
After a long night of sensory deprivation and torture, due to Danny's snoring, I feel I can empathise with the boys who were held captive at Colditz Castle!!
Danny and I have made some rules for our Rally. No driving over 60 MPH (keep fuel use down) and no motorway driving as this defeats the spirit of adventure and ensures we find every cobbled street in Europe! (As per the picture taken just inside Austria). We met our first dodgy police yesterday in Czech Republic. At a crash scene one policeman waved us on but the next one pulled us over and issued us with a 2,000 Czech Koruna fine. He then offered us a special discount and bonus - bringing it down to 200!
Reached the border of slovenia and about to push on through! The route: England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Rep, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, Kazhakstan, Mongolia!
What a long night sleeping by the roadside in Croatia. I slept across the front two seats with my legs poking out of the window. They were wet in the morning - it had rained! Now driving on to Serbia where we're starting to feel the heat. The car is like an oven. Nothing to what the Gobi desert will be like!
If you are interested in donating to this courageous cause, then please visit Marcus' justgiving page for further details.
Waking up at 5:45AM is never my ideal way to start the day. When I look out my window and see that I beat the sun in even rising, it's a battle that I never enjoy winning. Groggily stepping out of bed, each step is a challenge as I put on my clothes, brush my teeth and grab my traditional AM meal of muffins and a banana. Still not feeling truly awake, my mind is serenading my body with Bruno Mars' "The Lazy Song" in hopes of returning me to bed. Yet, as my colleagues and I all pack into the car, I began to realize that sleep will have to wait. The reason being that we have over 150 kids ready to participate in our World Cup-styled, mixed-gender soccer tournament.
On July 21st, WhizzKids United hosted our very own tournament for the ninth grade class of KwaPata Secondary School. Located in Edendale, South Africa, the purpose of our tournament was to congratulate and reward children who completed our "On the Ball" Life Skills programme. Our Life Skills programme is a sixteen hour curriculum that uses soccer as an analogy for reinforcing sexual health education and making positive life choices. For example, a drill of handling a ball around cones is not only an effective soccer practice on control but also a life lesson on knowing your opponent and overcoming obstacles. With likeminded drills in place and great trainers to lead the way, the children of KwaPata excelled in our program with flying colors and were more than ready to showcase their skills on the field.
The children were broken up into a total of 32 teams. Each team consisted of three boys and three girls and represented a country that participated in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Once the teams were established, Nathi, our tournament manager and Life Skills trainer, explained that the games were self-refereed by the teams themselves. Nevertheless, every game must be operated under FIFA Fair Play rules, a system that encourages a friendly game strictly without cheating or fighting. As an extra incentive, similar to how FIFA works, the player or team who demonstrated outstanding behavior during the day would be awarded with our Fair Play Award. After the kids received the rules of the tournament, it was time to begin the games.
My role for the tournament was to serve as a field manager for four teams. But, as soon as the ball dropped, these kids made me a fan rather than an extra official. All of the children played the game beautifully. Despite their young age and still-developing bodies, the ninth graders of KwaPata successfully emulated the moves of global stars such as Wayne Rooney, Marta, Leo Messi and Abby Wambach. Each team featured players that possessed incredible speed and precision that I could only obtain in my dreams. Watching the angles at how they attack and kick the ball, I was constantly amazed at their skills; thus often yelling in excitement and giving high-fives as if I was participating in the games as well.
As the tournament drew to a close, one team did arise among their peers en route to the championship. In dominating fashion, team South Africa shut out team Paraguay with a score of 3-0. Opponents and peers alike were so excited that team South Africa could perform astonishingly well and represent their home country proudly. In addition, team England won the Fair Play Award for displaying great sportsmanship throughout the tournament. The tournament was a successful event as children were able to compete among their friends yet play in a fun environment promoting the game of soccer, the importance of health and life.
Driving back home, I couldn't help but to finally fall back asleep. Even the excitement that Adele's "Someone Like You" drew from my colleagues wasn't enough to prevent me from falling into a passenger-seat slumber. However, I was extremely happy to participate in an event where we were able to give back by providing an event for children. The best memory of the event was watching the pure competitiveness from all the teams yet still witnessing excellent sportsmanship displayed by all members. With this memory and images of various goals scored all day, I kept my eyelids closed as it was sleep well deserved.
I’m used to this by now. This feeling of leaving behind the well known. Walking away from the comforts of your home, your family and your friends. I’m familiar with the duty and emotion of saying goodbye to people you love and things you cherish. I have constantly been down that road of transitioning into your new place of employment and residency. My family calls me awe-inspiring and daring. My friends call me brave and courageous. Although I am experienced with moving to new places and accepting new challenges, the difficulty of the process is never easy.
My name is Theo Mitchell and I am the new Marketing and Social Media Coordinator for Africaid's WhizzKids United (WKU). Based in Durban, South Africa, WhizzKids United is a charitable organization that teaches children HIV and AIDS prevention by using soccer as a medium of communication. To fulfill this objective, this organization produces life skill workshops and health academies that are accompanied by soccer games, tournaments and mixed gender leagues to reinforce the lessons. My role with the NGO will be to enhance WKU's online marketing and social media presence as well as the marketing plan for the health academies.
I'll never forget the day I accepted this volunteer position. It was April 19th, 2011. Nine days after turning 26 years old. Literally, four weeks before completing my Master's program at New York University and graduating at the illustrious Yankee Stadium. I remember feeling proud yet incredibly nervous. I remember calling my mother to tell her the news. I was confident in the decision yet a little unsettled about financial challenges and being far from home again. In my mind, I kept asking myself the same question all day. How can I accept a job that fits my strengths and ambitions but can also add financial burdens and even more distance away from my family?
Before enrolling at New York University, I was an English instructor in Naruto, Tokushima, Japan. For two years, I would rotate daily among eighteen elementary schools teaching classes as a participant in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. The opportunity was amazing because it provided me the opportunity to work and live abroad for the first time. Plus, I accomplished goals that I only thought you could obtain at a much older age. I truly built a global network, learned personal financial management and received extraordinary life lessons that goes beyond any office or classroom. Once I remembered these gifts, they simply outweighed any worry I possessed about my decision, WKU or moving again to a foreign country.
As I write this entry, the clock says that I have less than four hours before I can officially announce the completion of my first week at WhizzKids. Yet, the journey from April 19th to now has been undoubtedly rewarding. First, I have been blessed with an outpouring of love from family and friends. While fundraising in preparation for my move, my family and friends tremendously donated to my cause; thus raising over $5,000USD towards my plane ticket and the ability to handle daily circumstances in Durban. Secondly, I have been warmly welcomed by an uniquely global staff. The beauty of WKU is not only working beside great people for an important social cause but also working with those who care just as strongly about professional development. I am beyond fortunate to work alongside people who truly wants to help you and has your best interest at heart.
I am definitely excited by what this job has in store. Yes, it will be tough and I have already found myself a little overwhelmed at some points this week. But, I am ready for this position. Dealing with anything new is never as simple as you wish. But, at the same time, unchartered territories and new horizons can often bring so many unforeseen benefits that will serve you greatly in life. In addition, I always take pride in coming back home and showing my family and friends all of what I've newly learned, which is the best part of moving away and taking on challenges.