November 1, 2013. Mpala in the backyard. Mountains out the windows. Giraffes on the side of the road. Hours and hours and hours of driving on dust roads. A dog named Gibbo (aka Nick), one named Evy (aka Nora), and another named Titch (aka Brian). Was our CAC team working a program or on a vacation in the bush? Could it be both?
Unfortunately a safari was not on the agenda this week in South Africa but our coaches were certainly close enough to get a taste. Our partnership with African Brothers Football Academy in Cape Town brought us to a new location in 2013. As a favor to our valued partner, Craig Hepburn of African Brothers, CAC coaches Nick Gates and Nora Dooley ventured to the edges of Kruger National Park for a week of training.
After meeting with various members of the local municipality in Bushbuckridge, a large community in the province of Mpumalanga, our coaches realized how much potential there was for a program like ours to take root. Our organization’s emphasis on local sustainability gives the community the power to decide how they want to make use of our services once presented with the necessary information. These meetings allowed our staff to clarify exactly what it is that Coaches Across Continents does in communities all over the world, and from there it was up to Bushbuckridge.
The week turned into a formal introduction to our program for various smaller communities within the region. Hours of driving took us within 5 kilometers of the Kruger Gate to a town called Welverdeind, where Nick and Nora met a wonderful man who speaks the language of social impact and works at the heart of community development. After a short session with youth leaders and some local footballers, the CAC team was led to the town’s impressive youth center. Twenty-plus computers hooked up to high-speed Internet are among the many incredible resources readily available for the youth of Welverdeind to use at will. The staff was friendly and engaging as they discussed shared opinions on youth empowerment with our coaches. It was amazing to see the work already being done in small communities in the region, and this meeting provided us with a glimpse into the potential of a partnership with this youth center as well as other similar ones in the future.
The bulk of the week was spent in two other small communities within Bushbuckridge called Casteel and Thulamahashe. Between morning and afternoon sessions we were able to run 3 sessions at Casteel for about 40 members of the village. The group consisted of high school principals, life orientation teachers, and football coaches, but the majority were women between the ages of 19 and 60 who wanted to learn how to coach football! Little did they know they were getting quite a bit more than a lesson in coaching. This group was great to work with, dressed head to toe in some of the best football kits our coaches have seen, and always ready with a laugh and a smile. Watching these women do Ronaldo Skills in their long skirts and dresses was by far a highlight of the week for our CAC staff.
The third group we worked with this week was down in a town called Thulamahashe, which is just minutes away from the Private Game Reserve where both Nick and Nora have previously been on incredible safaris. The juxtaposition of the two experiences makes for quite a picture, one that the people of Thulamahashe and the greater Bushbuckridge community see every day as wealthy foreigners pass through their neighborhoods on their way to lavish expeditions in the bush.
The two sessions we ran with local football coaches, teachers, and even a referee (the toughest job in the world), were with smaller groups of 8 and then 10, but were extremely fruitful. Both groups grabbed hold of the notion of sport for social impact and were an absolute joy to work with. One group was particularly impressive as we played our five Adebayor HIV games with them, and our CAC team felt that they could have continued coaching them all day. It was clear that this group understood the power of football and how we can use these games to teach people how to protect themselves from HIV. The group asked question after question, proving their eagerness to learn from our coaches and bring it with them into their lives in the communities they live and work in. We only wish we had more time with such an enthusiastic group, but again, the future is promising for Buskbuckridge.
We will be in touch with all of our new contacts moving forward, and next time we will be sure to make room in our schedule for some sight-seeing in the Park, perhaps even bringing some new friends along for the ride.
Nick and Nora would also like to thank their fantastically entertaining hosts, Dave and Julienne Rushworth, their 10 wiener dogs (namely Gibbo and Evy), as well as Gracie, Philippa, and Jackie, for their incredible hospitality during our team’s stay in the mountains. Cheers to new friends and the budding partnership with the great people of Mpumalanga.