Building Friends, Developing People
Cape Townians really know how to enjoy their holidays. During any public holiday here you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone at work…anywhere. And to top it all off the whole city pretty much shuts down entirely during December and January. However, while the working population is resting schools also go on breaks and kids need something to do every day – luckily, there happens to be an awesome turf soccer field in Khayelitsha. During the long summer holiday (or winter holiday for those of you in the U.S.), there is also a break from normal programming at the field but you’d never know it judging by the activity taking place every afternoon.
The kids who take part in the normal programs at the CCMF are well aware that their leagues ended in November but that doesn’t stop them from showing up at the field every day. Without fail, kids are lined up at the gate as soon as they see the facilitators out on the pitch and, without fail, they have sort of randomly grouped themselves into teams and are playing friendly matches within minutes. At the end of the day the goals scored don’t count, no points were accumulated, no prizes were won but that doesn’t matter to these kids. What matters is that they played soccer. They spent their afternoon with their friends and with the program staff – their mentors and role models – and they played soccer.
What has been especially fun to watch over the past couple of months is the eclectic mix of players on the makeshift teams. For most programs that are run at the field, the space is reserved for a certain age or gender each day. For example, Monday is the Under 13 Heads Up program so the field is full of boys aged 10-12. But recently, kids of all ages and genders are at the field at the same time and wilfully playing together. It’s not unusual to find girls on the same teams as boys or to see a six-year-old running around the field effectively swimming in the pinny he’s wearing (which is my personal favourite) on the same team as 13 year olds.
These scenes at the field highlight one of many reasons why soccer is just awesome. I know I risk sounding overly cheesy here, but soccer really does bring people together. It bridges boundaries and “levels the playing field,” if you will. Seeing kids playing on diverse teams is just a small sample of the power this sport can have. If children can so easily forget about age or sex when there is a soccer ball in front of them then what is the broader implication of this small, round, black and white object? Does it also have the power to overcome race, disability, ethnicity, religion, violence, and so many other differences? I would say yes, but lets face it, I’m biased.