South Africa, March 2014: Sport leading the way to a brighter future and a closer community
March 2014, South Africa – Two teams of young boys are engaged in a rugby match to the sound of clapping, cheering and shouts of encouragement from the spectators. The excited murmur is in stark contrast to the gunfire and sirens that plagued the Hanover Park community not so long ago.
Where violent crime was once the order of the day in this Cape Town suburb, the focus has shifted towards the multi-purpose sports fields of Mount View High, built with the support of funds from the Dutch National Committee for UNICEF. What was once a dusty field is now a hub of excitement and various sporting and community activities. And a community that was once divided by gang activity is in the process of healing and reuniting due to the pulling power of sports.
Grade-11 learner Fiyaaz Jonathan (17) remembers a time before the children in the community had any access to sporting facilities.
“Children had nowhere to play. So they would walk the streets and get themselves into trouble,” says Fiyaaz. “I used to be a troublemaker with no goals or discipline when it came to schoolwork, but this changed once I found the opportunity to play sport.”
Sport bringing a sense of purpose
In 2007 Mount View High was identified as one of the worst of the 65 critical schools in South Africa’s Western Cape Province by the Department of Education. One of the key interventions introduced was Sport for Development with an emphasis on life skills with a focus on empowerment and leadership skills.
Initiated by Department of Education (DBE) and UNICEF the programme utilises a life-skills approach to allow for positive behavior change through sport and recreation. The programme is based on the principle that sport is not only crucial for the development of healthy bodies and minds, but that it is a platform to empower learners people with valuable skills that will contribute to improved learning outcomes.
June 2011 saw the official launch of the first ever multi-purpose playing facilities at the school, which formed part of the support to the school.
Fiyaaz says that peer pressure and the need to fit in dictated and controlled his life until he was introduced to rugby and football.
“Sport has given me the opportunity to inspire younger children like my brother and sister,” he says. “I made some bad decisions in life, but they don’t have to make the same mistakes. Yet I am amazed at how far I've come. I look back at where I was before rugby and football and I am just so grateful for where I am now.”
Discipline gained from sport also evident in school marks
Mount View High had a near-perfect Grade 12-pass rate in 2013. Mr. Benjamin attributes this to the impact sport and play has had on the learners. Performance at the school was at an all-time low with a grade 12 pass rate of 37% - to the 2013 pass rate of 98%. A phenomenal improvement of 61% in just five years of focused support to the school.
“If it wasn't for this programme by the Department of Education and UNICEF, our children wouldn't have had the opportunity to pursue so many passions,” he says.
As families and community members make their way to the sport fields over weekends, Mr. Benjamin says the pride and sense of unity is almost tangible. And with that the message of hope and a brighter future that comes with the learners’ new-found sense of purpose.
“By allowing children to play on the sport fields, we are keeping them off the street and ultimately giving them the chance to a brighter future.”
More stories from South Africa
More on education