Soccer, life skills for Zandspruit youth

9 November 2011

Working together makes it possible to achieve more - but somebody has to make a start. That's one of the lessons to be taken from Singcono Masisonke Football Club, which is giving the youngsters of Zandspruit informal settlement much more than just football skills.

It took a long time and many people to play their part to get it where it is today. But it took the vision and initiative of four people in particular to get the ball rolling.

Back in 2009, Pastor Simon Mosia was mentoring a number of teenage boys at the Thandanani House of Refuge in Zandspruit, an informal settlement north-west of Johannesburg, every afternoon, and playing soccer with them.

Mosia then approached two youngsters in the community, Shimi Mathebula and Peter Malinga, to assist him when his workload became too heavy.

Philen Naidu, who was a missionary in the community at that time - having just founded the My Life My Africa Children's Foundation - joined hands with Shimi and Peter to lend support. They partnered with the Emthonjeni Community Centre, cleaned up a patch of land into a soccer field, and began to develop a football club.

'Together, we are better off'

The children and youth of Zandspruit have no facilities to keep them occupied in the afternoons and evenings. Without something to keep them occupied, most them spent their time on the streets. This was where the gangs, drugs, alcohol and womanising started, which was destroying the youth.

Naidu explains: "We came up with the name 'Singcono Masisonke' (together, we are better off) because we wanted to unify the community. We believe that for the youth to break free of the shackles of poverty and neglect, it is imperative that they build positive and healthy relationships through unity and peace."

Currently, there are about 120 boys, aged 9 to 19, who train at Singcono Masisonke Football Club from Monday to Sunday. They have an Under 10, 13, 15 and 17 division. The group also partnered with Golang Education Outreach and look after a number of their children.

Naidu says they are a values-based club and they take their lead from the teachings of the Bible: believing in peace, love, grace, forgiveness and tolerance, but also believing that a person must have a heart that is willing to be re-shaped in order for the group to work with him.

They also partnered with the Panorama Football Club in 2011, and played against Orlando Pirates and Wits this year, together with matches against local schools and clubs in the area.

An extra-mural learning environment

The vision of My Life My Africa is to facilitate and nurture the growth of an extra-mural learning environment and culture for the young people of Zandspruit - to keep them off the streets and steadily equipped them for a bright future.

"Our first boy in the club has reached Grade 12 this year, and we managed to secure him 31 hours of private tuition to help with his preparations for the matric finals," says Naidu.

"From here, we are planning to implement a sustainable after-school tuition structure to support all high school children with their studies, homework and career planning. We also have a youth gathering every Tuesday evening to go into closer mentorship through life issues that the youth have.

"Our vision is to have a Zandspruit Community that is filled with practical, emotional, spiritual and educational activities and learning opportunities for the youth - Monday to Sunday."

Shimi and Peter have been sponsored this year to complete their Grade 12. Both have been trained as childcare workers and have been employed by Golang.

The foundation has a few partners who help keep it strong and get things going.

Getting people to engage

Naidu says they need to be "westernised" in how they deal with the westernised sector of society, which is where the funds have to come from. But at the same time they have to be mindful and sensitive to the cultures within the community. This is the challenge.

"Funding is never easy - unless you are a well-established organisation, government and corporate are not even interested in talking to you.

"And then to approach small and medium business, churches, individuals and groups is also frustrating, because people are lavish with praise and vocal support, but to move them from their comfort zones to actually step into Zandspruit to engage with the people is not so easy," says Naidu.

"It's difficult to motivate people to give financially unless their hearts have been moved, and this seldom happens if individuals do not engage with the impoverished sector of society."

What he appreciates most about the project is to watch the visible change come over the faces of youth and young adults in his care. To see them as confused, disruptive and ill-disciplined people when they arrive, and then to watch them grow in humility, service, gratitude and hope is a great reward.

Their focus remains on equipping those who are in their care to be the leaders of the ones who are younger than they are. The vision is to have sufficiently equipped and competent leadership teams in place by the end of 2012, so that all their work in Zandspruit takes on community "ownership".

Source: Brand South Africa

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Singcono Masisonke Football Club - the first organised sports club for children in Zandspruit informal settlement (Photo: My Life My Africa Children's Foundation)

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