Early in the morning of June 14, my husband and I left GFA for a service-learning trip to South Africa with five GFA students. Many hours later, we arrived in Durban at the invitation of Marcus, the founder and CEO of Whizzkids, an organization that uses soccer to teach life skills to students in schools in and around Durban and Pietermaritzberg. Many of the children are either AIDS orphans or have tested positive for HIV.
Imagined from the very beginning as a service-learning trip with the possibility of some kind of partnership between GFA and Whizzkids, the trip was a life changing experience from the moment we arrived.
Our first experience was a soccer tournament in which a number of teams competed, while over to one side, Whizzkids staff conducted testing for HIV as well as providing counseling. We were immediately struck by the open and friendly attitudes of the children, all of whom had multiple questions about the USA and the lives of the GFA students. This was a perfect example of kids connecting with kids across different cultures and life experiences, and the conversations were broadening for all.
For most of the week, the GFA “team” worked alongside the life skills trainers as they worked with students either in their schools or at the Health Academy. We visited schools where Whizzkids and the work they do on several levels offers hope and often a life line to children. We saw firsthand the effect of the program, the importance of the adults connected with Whizzkids who serve as counselors, teachers, and role models and the extraordinary dedication and commitment of all who are involved with Whizzkids.
The week culminated with a soccer tournament at a rural school, where, against a backdrop of undulating hills and scattered houses, the students played several games until the best team won. The whole school came out to watch, and this seemed a fitting end to our visit, with GFA students helping the Whizzkids staff in an atmosphere of respect and admiration for the work they do and for the students with whom they work.
We are deeply grateful to Marcus and all the Whizzkids staff for their great spirit and for their humanity.