UK celebrity Mark Wright visits Saldanha Safe Park

Safe Parks provide a life-changing sanctuary for children in under-resourced communities

Sudeshan Reddy
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UNICEF South Africa/2019/Reddy
21 June 2019

Saldanha - With a moving song in the local language of isiXhosa sung by children and child and youth care workers, UK television celebrity and UNICEF supporter, Mark Wright is welcomed to the Safe Park in Middlepos on the outskirts of the neat, coastal town of Saldanha.

The warm welcome is greatly appreciated by Mark who, accompanied by a team from the UNICEF UK National Committee and UNICEF South Africa, spent two full days with the children of this under-resourced community located 200 kilometers from Cape Town.

The primary purpose of the visit is to highlight the work being done in South Africa, by UNICEF and its partners in Government and civil society, in providing secure spaces for children, while also raising awareness of the power of sport, to better the lives of children.

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UNICEF South Africa/2019/Reddy
All set to play soccer at the Saldanha Safe Park.

As an amateur soccer player himself, Mark is a strong proponent of the meaningful difference that sport can make to a young person’s life. This issue was brought up in a Youth Forum discussion which Mark participated in with local high school learners. Experiences were shared about the challenges of growing up in communities where violence and substance abuse are a daily reality. Throughout the discussion, the learners highlighted the difference that the Safe Park makes to children as it provides a secure and stimulating environment for them. 

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UNICEF South Africa/2019/Reddy
UK celebrity Mark Wright in discussion with young people about their future at the Saldanha Safe Park

In discussion with the child and youth care workers as well as representatives of the National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers (NACCW), Mark expressed his appreciation of the “breathtaking work” that they do in making a difference to the lives of children. He then had a chance to walk around the informal settlement and got a clearer sense of the living conditions of people while noting the investment by the government to alleviate the plight of the least fortunate communities, including children in this case. With the Youth Forum over, it was time for a game of soccer on the nearby field with children from the local community. There was much enthusiasm from both the children and Mark as he displayed his prowess with the soccer ball.

On day two, it was a home visit to Ms Nojanga who lives in the Middlepos with her three children. Currently unemployed, Ms Nojanga expressed her appreciation for the activities and work being done in the Safe Park and the difference it makes to the lives of her children.

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UNICEF South Africa/2019/Reddy
Mark Wright displaying his selfie skills at the Saldanha Safe Park.

Managed by local non-governmental organisations and funded by the Department of Social Development, these Safe Parks provide a life-changing sanctuary for children in this under-resourced community. For Sinah Moruane, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF South Africa, “the Safe Park is a safety-net and a springboard for fostering age-appropriate developmental programmes. “

Footage from this visit was televised on Fathers Day, the 16th of June in the United Kingdom as part of the Soccer Aid fund raising initiative which both Mark and UNICEF have supported in the past. As his visit concluded, Mark thanked the children of the Safe Park as well as the child and youth care workers “for sharing your experiences with me” and pledged his ongoing commitment to a safer world for children.