|© UNICEF South Africa/2008/ Duncan|
|Sisipho, 9, a student at a Mbekweni Primary School in South Africa, shows off her catching abilities to South African cricketer Claire Terblanche during a UNICEF-supported 'mini cricket clinic'.|
By Yvonne Duncan
MBEKWENI TOWNSHIP, South Africa, 22 February 2008 – Sisipho, 9, a student at Mbekweni Primary school, elicits glowing words of admiration from her teachers when they watch her play sports. Recently, she put a big smile on the faces not only of her teachers, but of nine women’s cricket players who took time out from their qualifying matches for the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup Qualifier in Stellenbosch, South Africa, to visit her school.
“My brother plays cricket. He is 18 years old. But I teach him how to bowl,” Sisipho says, while demonstrating her best bowling stance. “I like to bowl.”
Sisipho was among more than 100 children who took part in a ‘mini cricket clinic’ taught by international cricket stars from the Netherlands, South Africa, Papua New Guinea and Ireland. The visit – part of a global partnership between the International Cricket Council, UNICEF and UNAIDS – also included young coaches and community volunteers from Sport Coaches’ OutReach, a local non-governmental organization.
Counting on the power of sport
Mbekweni Township is dealing with challenges such as entrenched poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS. Seasonal work on the nearby farms keeps parents away for long periods, and families are often headed by grandparents.
Sport can help children focus in school and keep them away from risky activities that may lead to HIV infection.
“UNICEF believes that engagement in sports can help influence children’s perception of risk when it comes to HIV and AIDS, and help them remain HIV-free,” said UNICEF Representative in South Africa Macharia Kamau.
|© UNICEF South Africa/2008/ Duncan|
|Children line up for Netherlands' cricketer Violet Wattenburg, who is instructing them how to hold the cricket bat properly.|
Irish cricketer Isobel Joyce believes partnerships like this can provide great opportunities for young people.
“Sport is really important in every way” Ms. Joyce said. “It brings kids together, helps them make friends, helps them stay healthy and keeps them away from trouble.”
'Models of achievement'
Teaming up with partners like South Africa’s National Department of Education and NGOs such as Let’s Play and Active Education, UNICEF plans to increase access to sports programmes for up to 1 million children by 2010.
“We want a good quality of education for our girls, who outnumber boys in our school,” said the cricket coordinator at Mbekweni Primary School, Patrick Maxam. “We want to cut down on the number of drop-outs we now have.”
During their visit to the school, the players conducted a variety of sport-related activities with the children. “It was very good to see that there are young people who enjoy playing sport,” said South Africa’s Marcia Letsoalo.
“It’s wonderful to see how enthusiastic the children are and how they are so eager to learn,” added Leonie Hoitink of the Netherlands.
As for Sisipho, who only started playing sports last year, she already excels at running, netball and cricket, and is showing strong leadership qualities. She plans to be the captain of her school’s cricket team some day.
“The visit of the ICC women’s cricket players presents a super opportunity for all children, especially for girls,” said Mr. Kamau. “These women athletes stand as prime models of achievement for our young girls and help uphold hope for the fulfilment of the dreams and aspirations of all children. Sports can do that.”
ICC Women's World Cup Qualifier
(external link, opens in a new window)