The Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha received a special visit from the USA international side on Sunday, ahead of the side’s friendly match against South Africa at Soccer City on Wednesday.
The international players came to witness the work being done at the centre to help educate children on the subject of HIV/AIDS, using football to help teach them about understanding and dealing with the disease, and taking part in some of the activities. In an area where the virus is such an ever-present problem, USA defender Jonathan Bornstein was full of praise for the work being done with the children involved in the programme.
"It's an incredibly special experience to be able to spend time with these kids," said the Chivas USA captain. "The disease is such a huge problem in this country, so it's very important that people are educated about the risks and the right behaviour. They have so little here, so it's great to see the looks on their faces and think that you are making a difference in their lives.”
The centre, situated on the outskirts of Cape Town, was the first of 20 to be opened as part of the official FIFA World Cup™ campaign “20 Centres for 2010”. Each of the 20 centres built across Africa will be run by an existing community organisation. The Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha is managed by Grassroot Soccer, a South African-based non-profit organisation that uses football to educate young people about HIV and AIDS and empower them with the knowledge to live HIV-free.
Situated in the township of Khayelitsha, the centre sees hundreds of children attend it every day, set against a backdrop of 1.2m people – largely comprising of teenagers – living in a sprawling area of huts with poverty evident at every turn. As well as educating those who pass through their doors, the Grassroots Soccer staff also travel to 15 schools in the surrounding area to widen the range of children they reach.
Grassroot Soccer aims to convey their message of HIV/AIDS education by using language and metaphors which the children can relate to, such as those connecting with football, and using messages from role-models within the sport to push home the importance of protecting themselves from the virus. This is all then built around a relaxed and friendly environment, building on the rich love for the sport found in many of the kids.
Elton John was another high-profile visitor to the centre in May, providing a £1m for the scheme from the Elton John AIDS Foundation to Grassroot Soccer, as they continue to try and spread its message of education and social progression through sport.
The centre in Khayelitsha has been given support from other notable figures, including former Bafana Bafana captain Lucas Radebe, himself from the township of Soweto, ambassador for the scheme Dr Gabriele Princess Inaara the Begum Aga Khan and the mayor of Cape Town Dan Plato, all of whom were present at the opening ceremony in December 2009.
Centres in Nairobi, Kenya and Windhoek, Namibia are now up and running having followed the path trodden by Khayelitsha, and hoping to tackle the individual problems faced by each community, with both health and social issues high on their respective agendas.