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After reading the title of this article, some may be thinking: "Oh no, not another article on the power of sport..." Yes, this is indeed another article about sport and its teaching potential for socially disadvantaged youths. And an article that shows how a combination of sport and support programmes for young people can have a wide-ranging impact: 'sport for development' has become part of South Africa's sport policy.
Though the situation is slowly changing in many African urban centres and a young, dedicated, entrepreneurial middle class is emerging, the old problems are still there: high unemployment – especially among youths – a high rate of HIV infection, and even higher level of violence. This is compounded by an educational system that puts poor people at a disadvantage and continues to widen the gap between the rich and the poor. Physical education is not a regular part of the school curriculum. Children and youths often grow up in one-parent households, and there is a general lack of positive role models. This is a combination of factors predestined to serve as a catalyst for a precarious downward spiral.
What is to be done to prevent this downward spiral? Sport – and football in particular – is and will remain an effective means of reaching many young people. And not just boys; the number of girls enthusiastic about football continues to rise.
Using the popularity of football for non-formal education and community building is the agenda of the Youth Development through Football (YDF) project, which started in 2007 as an initiative between the German development agency GIZ in partnership with the Department of Sport and Recreation South Africa (SRSA). A total of 35 NGO's from 10 African countries are also taking part in the programme. The project is being implemented in all South African provinces and cooperates with governmental and non-governmental institutions already successfully using football for youth development, thus expanding their capacities. It has also embarked on public-private partnerships with Volkswagen South Africa and Nike SA (Pty) Ltd. The project is part of the Mass Participation Programme (MPP) from the South African Sports Ministry and works closely together with schools and sports coordinators.
The key aim of the project is to transform coaches into social workers and social workers into football coaches by providing them with special knowledge and skills which range from football training methodology and working with children and teens to more specific topics like gender awareness, inclusion of disabled participants, environmental awareness, and violence and HIV prevention. They learn how to incorporate social topics into football training and act as role models to promote healthy community-oriented behaviour in order to help their trainees face social issues like gender inequality, HIV/AIDS, drugs, crime and violence, environmental pollution, and unemployment.
Peer-educator and coach Mamello combines life skills education and football training for the Umzingisi Foundation. He lives with his three uncles, grandmother, aunt and three cousins. His mother only stays over at weekends as she is a domestic worker and has a live-in job. Several of Mamello's immediate family members have passed away from AIDS, a disease still profoundly affecting the family. Mamello has an active sports background. In primary school, he took part in judo, rugby, cricket and football. Later, a friend who was a manager at the Grassroot Soccer NGO recruited him as a coach to provide him with some income. His journey to become a "life skills coach" started at this organization:
"I started to take life more seriously when I became a coach. I became a role model and was very caring. I found inner peace and then I started reading motivational books like David Molapo's I Can Foundation. I wanted to go back to school to be able to study further. My uncles had been disappointed when I left school because they had put their faith in me for studying. I never wanted to disappoint anybody again." This attitude of caring spilled over into Mamello's current involvement with Umzingisi and his role as a peer educator in the YDF programme. "What I like most about my current job is that I can give spiritual support. I am resilient and can teach the children to be the same. I have learnt so much and can also teach them some new tricks of life. The benefit of teaching life skills is that I also change."
"What I like most about my current job is that I can give spiritual support."
Masego lives in Motse-mocha, a small village in Lesotho. In 2006, she found out that she was HIV positive. The following year, the young woman joined the Kick4Life NGO where she was accepted and found comfort during this difficult period. Since then, Masego has assisted as a coach and peer educator. "I have seen participants change when they got involved in the programme. As volunteers we talk to the kids about their HIV status and they feel free to talk to us."
Masego's mother complains that "there is a lot of ignorance about HIV and AIDS. Many people do not understand the disease. People will hide that they are HIV positive. Some are just scared and do not want to change". Masego found acceptance, support and "a life" at Kick4Life. A scholarship programme and personal loan made it possible for her to continue her schooling. Masego's mother points out that her daughter has changed a lot since she joined Kick4Life: "She now organizes little children from the community to go play. She has a club, the 'Young Hearts', with 30 teenagers. On Saturdays and on holidays they go to old people and visit them in their homes. We collect clothes and give them to them." Coach Gahigi in Burundi works for Chiro, an organization that is active in the field of youth development in Burundi and works in keeping with its slogan: "Put away what separates and discover what unifies us". One of its approaches is to use football to promote peace and reconciliation. The 27-year-old man, who graduated from Burundi University, lives in the capital Bujumbura together with his younger siblings. Gahigi has coached a football team for many years. He lives with his brother and two sisters. Both their parents died in the early 1990s. Today, there is no one who earns an income for the household, but the parents left a house for the children, which they rent out. Gahigi went to a public university, paid for by a scholarship. Although disagreements come up in the household, the atmosphere is good, as the family members help each other out. Nevertheless, Gahigi is often concerned about the responsibility he has to take for his siblings.
According to the most recent research carried out by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) with 1,408 people, including the programme's implementers and participants, the project has had and continues to have a demonstrable effect on the social behaviour of youth. Almost 40% of the young people involved in or reached by YDF activities display a significant decrease in antisocial behaviour; they demonstrate less violent, unethical and discriminatory behaviour. Just under a third of these young people feel that this more peaceful behaviour also extends beyond the football pitch. More than 73% agree that the life skills learnt are transferred to or implemented in everyday life experiences, such as greeting others, respecting elders, or being able to share food, pens or even sports shoes with others. The researchers have since reported that 74% of the young boys and girls feel their self-confidence has increased as a result of taking part in YDF activities. More than 81% of youths involved in the project see themselves as role models and report that they are recognized as catalysts for social change. 50% of the peer educators believe that they are more employable.
The University of Johannesburg closely monitors and evaluates the YDF project and its achievements. So far 62,917 youths in South Africa and another 55,748 in other African countries have been directly involved in youth development measures through football. 38% of these are girls. Additionally, 14,830 youths in South Africa and 52,030 in other African countries have been reached indirectly. 162 YDF instructors have been trained and have in turn facilitated workshops for 1,565 coaches from 375 organizations. 80 instructors have already been trained in one or more of the YDF short modules.