Well I am settling into life in Port Elizabeth slowly but surely, the biggest hurdle so far being learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road in a standard! Things are going well, we just had our first weekend here where we got settled in, had a braai, a barbeque with the staff in the office and Ro, an intern who is living in our house and moving out tomorrow. I am beginning to learn the real definition of “Africa Time”, a hard lesson to learn coming from the States where everything is go, go go! Just to give you some examples: for our braai we told people to arrive at noon, and they arrived around 130 or 2. Then, at work, they told us to be at work at 8, we arrived at 815, they didn’t begin doing anything until probably 930...it’s quite a different world. But, it’s a lot of fun too! Today is my first official day of work, where the internet is down so we are scrambling around trying to get as much done as we can without internet. I have spent majority of the time so far sitting around, and calling the Cape Town office speaking with another intern about ordering some guides for a “Training of Coaches”, a four day training session Siya, my boss, runs to teach new coaches how to implement our curriculum in the schools. They said to expect the unexpected, and a lot of down time mixed with really crazy busy times, so I am now seeing what they mean. You have to be comfortable asking people for work, but also comfortable sitting around when there is no work. So, it’s a lot of cultural lessons. At times I do feel like I have just been thrown into this mix and this world without having a chance to get my bearings, but I think it will all work out soon.
I thought that it would be important at some point to give you all more of a background on GRS and their sponsors, and how we are able to do what we do. GRS is sponsored by a number of organizations, like USAID, PEPFAR(President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) Established by President Bush, who actually did a number of great things for International HIV/AIDS awareness), Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, Nike, FIFA and more. The amount of partners and organizations working with GRS is astounding, and quite surprising. To have an organization that is so new(GRS was founded in 2003) having so many globally respected organizations backing them up is pretty incredible. During our training we learned about these organizations and their sponsorships, as well as some overarching initiatives, like F4, which stands for Football for an HIV free generation. Our Skillz program, the curriculum that we teach kids about HIV/AIDS and confidence building is one of the programs which falls under F4, which is like the overarching HIV/Soccer initiative(confusing, I know. I am still trying to figure it all out!). The amount of balls GRS is juggling is pretty ridiculous.
Some of the new plans that GRS has going on include The Football for Hope Center, a center that they are opening in December in Khayelitsha, a township outside of Cape Town. This is a center with a football pitch out in front, which will also have offices and classroom type space to teach children, run after school programs, and basically serve as a venue for students to get off the streets and to be doing something productive. Part of this Football for Hope Center is the idea of 20 centers by 2010, they are hoping to establish 20 centers like the one in Khayelitsha across the country. Along with this and many other programs, it seems like everyone at GRS has other side projects that they are working on to help continue the GRS mission. It’s really remarkable. I am inspired every day by these people and the work that they are doing. It’s great to be around this incredible energy, the organization is growing by the day and it’s exciting to be a part of it! The staff has expanded in huge numbers, and they are also trying to hire only South Africans, hopefully making GRS a South African organization, with GRS Global that will include other nationalities in other offices across the globe.
That is sort of generally speaking what the Cape Town Headquarters is working on, they are the point person for all of the offices across South Africa. Beyond South Africa, interns are placed in Nambibia, Masiena(near the border of Zimbabwe), Lesotho, Malawi and Zambia. The interns who are not in S. Africa are working on similar projects, or helping to establish GRS in other locations. In Lesotho for example, the two interns there are working on a program called Kick 4Life, which works hand in hand with GRS, so they are not working specifically for GRS, but with a similar organization. In Malawi, they are working with Baylor to help set up a GRS office in Lilongwe. For us in Port Elizabeth, we are doing more of the traditional Grassroot Soccer work. Port Elizabeth is the hub of Grassroot Soccer, probably the second biggest office and the most important for graduating students through our curriculum. The curriculum that we used, called Skillz curriculum, has been adapted and altered over the years and now is a combination of games, activities and sessions for the children to work together, discuss issues, and hear stories from their coaches (peer mentors). Grassroot Soccer as a whole is hoping to graduate 26,000 students through their curriculum from October 1 of 2009 through September 31 of 2010. And, for Port Elizabeth, we are hoping to graduate 16,000 out of that 26,000 in schools in the neighboring townships--well over half of the estimated graduates are expected to come from PE! So, we certainly have a lot of work to do.
This week, I have been going with my boss, Siya, a dynamic little jokester, and Dom, a fellow intern, to schools in townships surrounding Port Elizabeth. The township I will be working closely with this year is Motherwell, which is on the outskirts of the city. We have been going to new schools and pitching our curriculum to principals and Life Orientation Teachers(sort of like Health/phys. ed teachers), in hopes that they will agree to have us established in their schools, working with 6, 7, 8 and 9th graders. Tough ages to follow and target, but also some of the best as at that age children are most vulnerable to peer pressure, and are beginning to think about sexual relationships, but hopefully have not started yet. The reason why we target this age group is because GRS hopes that we can prevent these kids from making the wrong choices before they start veering off track. It has been really interesting going into these schools and talking with the administration, and also very intimidating! Siya had me explaining all on my own what we do and why we do it, which was really scary at first, but also so cool. I am really starting to feel connected to the organization, and even more passionate about what we do and what makes GRS such an amazing organization. Also, while we were visiting schools we got to stop by a school that already has GRS working there, and we got to see some coaches in the middle of a session with 6th graders, which was really fun. We did some energizers with them, which involve dancing in the middle of the circle, a take on head, shoulders, knees and toes and some others. And, it is always a great time to learn some more Xhosa, one of the languages spoken here, and the most prevalent language in the Townships. It has a lot of clicks, so it’s pretty challenging, but all of us are confident that we will learn/pick up a good amount by the end of the year. Then, we got to watch the children perform an activity, called Risk Field, where children have to dribble around cones that represent obstacles that they face in life: HIV/AIDS, unprotected sex, rape, drugs, alcohol, violence, etc. If they hit a cone, they have to do pushups. They line up in teams and have to race each other through the cones. Dom and I got to play along with them today, and it was such a riot. The kids are super energetic and excited, participating a ton and working really well with each other. And, they are also really respectful of the coaches, who become huge role models for them as they live in the townships and connect with each of the students. The only thing that’s still becoming hard to adjust to is being white, as we are the only white people around usually, so we get a lot of stares and kids yell, “Mulungo”, which means white person in Xhosa.
So far, things are going great. It’s been really rewarding to see what work is being done in the townships, and getting to play with children and interact with the locals has by far been the biggest highlight for me. Yesterday I had a moment of realization, as I was sitting outside on the soccer pitch behind our office, watching some street league play. I was talking with a few of the female coaches from Zwide, one of the townships, while I was looking around at the scene: us, on a soccer field, in the middle of a township, and it really hit me what I am doing and where I am living. Sometimes I forget where I am, and moments like that bring me back to reality. It’s so eye opening working in a township and seeing what people endure on a daily basis. Certainly makes you appreciate what you have, and how lucky we truly are. And, it shows the strength and resiliency of the human spirit. I have been amazed by everyone that I have met so far, and I know this is only the beginning. Thank you to everyone for your support and emails, it is so wonderful to hear from people. I miss you all and hope that everyone is doing well. I hope to have more to update you all on soon!
All my best and much love,