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How Soccer is Changing My Community

Editor’s Note: The following blog post comes from Bukie Mfinci, a member of the Grassroot Soccer South Africa team. Bukie is currently an administrative assistant in our Cape Town office; she previously served as a GRS Caring Coach for two years. Here she gives us a first-person account of how she’s seen soccer (football) have a positive impact in her community, particularly on girls and young women.

BukieI remember the first time I was able to play football with boys when I was nine years old in Johannesburg, South Africa. In addition to the challenges of a young girl wanting to play football with a group of boys, as a Xhosa girl, it was difficult to communicate with the Sotho boys. In the village, I realised at a very young age that if we ever want to truly play football together, we would have to learn each other’s languages. Football allowed us to connect and see past our cultural differences, and this lesson has stuck with me throughout my life.

My past experiences have demonstrated to me that football is a powerful language that can be used to unite people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

As a Grassroot Soccer SKILLZ Coach from 2012-2014, I used the power of football to educate and mobilise young people in Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha, about HIV/AIDS and gender equality. Football and sport-based activities allowed me to touch the lives of youth in Khayelitsha, regardless of their culture, gender or sexual orientation.

My role as a coach extended far beyond the pitch, though. I worked closely with young girls, many of whom have experienced domestic and gender-based violence, to speak up for themselves and understand their rights. I talked to them about the risks and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS using the universal language of football.

At Grassroot Soccer, we work as a team to break the many barriers and stereotypes that women and girls cannot play football, and we encourage everyone to play. When these girls and young women play football, it increases their physical health, self-esteem and confidence. This leads to better attendance and performance in school, and delayed sexual debut.

Football, and all physical sport and play, is so important to young girls in my community who don’t have safe spaces for recreation or otherwise, and the area in which the Grassroot Soccer FIFA Football for Hope Centre is located in Khayelitsha has an important history. Some 17 years ago, this particular section of Khayelitsha – Harare – was infamous as a dangerous place where muggings, murder and rape were common. No one from the community would go there. With the development of the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) Centre, and the construction of the Grassroot Soccer Football for Hope Centre, we have been part of a complete redesign of the Harare area. We have taken back control of this public area, and turned it into a safe space in Khayelitsha where girls and young women can come together, play football, support each other and feel protected. This centre, and the work we are doing, also demonstrates to the community where I live that girls and young women can play football.

Many young women around the world, and even in other parts of South Africa, don’t have the same opportunity to play football. We all know that being female can limit our access to many sport activities, especially football. However, we can stand up to harmful gender norms and stereotypes that girls and young women can’t play football.

As a Grassroot Soccer SKILLZ Coach, I challenged these harmful gender norms every day. I am still a role model for the many school-age girls I supported while a Coach, and I am also a role model today for current SKILLZ Coaches who can see how I am continuing my professional development.

I believe all young women and girls should have access to safe spaces for play and sports, and as a young activist in South Africa, I am trying to encourage young girls to play sports and live healthy lives.

Today, I am still working with Grassroot Soccer and hope to become a Community Programme Coordinator (CPC) at the Khayelitsha Football for Hope Centre, further developing my passion for football and Sport for Social Change.

Editor’s Note: Here’s a great example of Bukie engaging her neighbors in change:

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Trevor Noah Visits Grassroot Soccer for Red Nose Day

Comic ReliefIn between a series of sold out shows at Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre Centre, internationally known South African comedian Trevor Noah visited the Grassroot Soccer Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha.

Trevor Noah

South African comedian Trevor Noah visits Grassroot Soccer's Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, for Comic Relief's annual Red Nose Day in the U.K. Noah learned about the organization's SKILLZ Street program for girls and participated in soccer-based HIV awareness activities on the FFHC pitch. Here, Coach George teaches the girls a game called HIV Attacks, which explains how HIV attacks the human immune system.

In support of Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day today, 13 March 2015, Trevor Noah recently spent time with Grassroot Soccer Caring Coaches and participants to learn about the organization’s efforts to combat the spread of HIV in South Africa through the power of football.

Noah spoke with female Coaches and participants about the difficulties of life in Khayelitsha and how they foster hope amongst themselves and their peers through the Grassroot Soccer Coach Development program and soccer-based SKILLZ Street curriculum. Noah joined the young women and girls in a series of SKILLZ activities, including Find the Ball and HIV Attacks.

Trevor Noah and SKILLZ Street group

Trevor Noah and Grassroot Soccer participants and Coaches.

Noah shared his impressions at the end of the visit, “Coming back to the townships as somebody that grew up here, as somebody that lived here, you realise that one of the most important things that we’re deprived of in South Africa growing up, was hope. And that’s what people get here at Grassroot Soccer. You’ve got young girls who come together and get a chance to be something greater than just their surroundings.”

Trevor Noah

Coach Sony (in black t-shirt) explains the day's activities to participants and Trevor Noah.

Comic Relief is a major UK charity started in 1985, with the mission to drive positive change through the power of entertainment. Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day is a bi-annual event in the UK to raise funds for organisations working in the UK and across Africa. As a recipient of Comic Relief funding, Grassroot Soccer is able to use the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize young people to stop the spread of HIV.

Check out video from the visit below:

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Grassroot Soccer Joins Global Money Week

Grassroot Soccer South Africa was proud to participate in Global Money Week, the international money awareness celebration that engages over 3 million youth from 100 countries to learn about financial education, money, savings and entrepreneurship.

This year’s theme, “Save Today. Safe Tomorrow,” focused on empowering the next generation to develop smart saving habits to ensure a safe future.

Trade Off Activity

GRS Coaches participate in a "Trade Off" Activity as part of Global Money Week.

50 Grassroot Soccer Coaches from Khayelitsha, South Africa’s second largest township on the outskirts of Cape Town, engaged in two financial education activities, “Trade Off” and “The Saving Game” from the Ragball International Curriculum.

Grassroot Soccer uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize young people to stop the spread of HIV. Ragball International is an economic development program that uses an interactive sport-based curriculum to teach financial literacy skills and empower young people to take action and take control of their financial futures.

I Save Because Activity

GRS Coaches express reasons to save money as part of Global Money Week.

In “The Saving Game”, Coaches explored the differences between a spending culture and a saving culture, and looked at examples from their community. Each Coach took a savings pledge to make one small change in their spending habits that will help them save money over time. One Coach said that in order to reach her long term goal of going to college, she would stop buying soft drinks on the weekends. “Although it may seem like a small change, over time it will help me save money.”

“Trade Off” helps young people discover what they gain and sacrifice in order to achieve personal long-term goals. Coach Zinzi spoke about how she saved money from every paycheck, “giving up” going out with her friends while “gaining” enough savings to buy her own small house.

Overall the activities were a great success and, as Coach Sonele shared, “I came away from today understanding that saving money can be hard, but if I have a plan and stick to it, I can achieve my long term goals.”