June 7 2010

Football fever in South African SOS Children's Villages

07/06/2010 - All the children and young people in the South African SOS Children's Villages are enthusiastic about the 2010 FIFA World Cup. There will be a whole series of top-class events during the World Cup. National teams, players, sports officials and politicians from a wide range of countries have announced that they will visit one of the eight SOS Children's Villages in South Africa, and children will also be able to visit one or other of the national teams in their training camp. On top of that there will be free tickets for children and young people from SOS Children's Village facilities to allow them to go to World Cup matches.

Photo: Patrick Wittmann
South Africa: passionate footballers in SOS Children's Village Cape Town – Photo: Patrick Wittmann

The World Cup in Germany four years ago was a fantastic event for SOS Children's Villages as the social partner of FIFA. During the "6 villages for 2006" campaign, the biggest official charity campaign during a World Cup to date, a total of 21 million euros was raised between 2003 and 2006. This secured the construction of six new SOS Children's Villages for some 800 children, as well as schools, kindergartens, and family strengthening programmes for thousands of children, and also included ten years' running costs. One of the six villages was set up in Rustenburg in South Africa, and it is now home to around 100 children. The others were built in Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, Vietnam, and Ukraine.

Playing host to stars in SOS Children's Villages

It figures that football fever is particularly rampant among the children and young people in Rustenberg. But the World Cup taking place in their own country is also the main topic of conversation in SOS Children's Villages and among the children in the SOS family strengthening programmes in Mamelodi, Nelspruit, Ennerdale, Pietermaritzburg, Mthatha, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The announcement about famous visitors only adds to the mounting excitement.

Photo: Robert Gasteiger
Haiti: after the devastating earthquake, football brings a bit of normality back to children's lives (SOS Children's Village Santo in Port-au-Prince in February 2010) - Photo: Robert Gasteiger

As part of the WorldCoaches programme, SOS Children’s Villages and the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) will hold a football clinic at the SOS Children’s Village Mamelodi near Johannesburg on Thursday 17 June. South African football coaches along with former Dutch internationals Aron Winter, Pierre van Hooijdonk and Ruud Krol will coach 100 South African children ranging from 6 to 14 years old.

The SOS Children's Village in Ennerdale will have the chance to welcome the Swiss national team with their German coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld. Former Luxemburg international Roby Langers, one of the squad of over 100 "FIFA for SOS Children's Villages" ambassadors - which includes, among others, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Fabio Cannavaro, Lucas Radebe and Samuel Eto'o - will visit the SOS Children's Village in Cape Town, and the Luxemburg Minister for Sport will also be going to Ennerdale or Mamelodi. Then again in Rustenburg they are expecting a visit on 24 June from Princess Takamado of Japan, who is honouring the "2006 World Cup Village" in the run-up to the match between Japan and Denmark, alongside high-ranking political representatives from South Africa and Japan. More visits by national teams are in the pipeline.

The social power of football

Photo: Sebastian Posingis
Mastering ball skills (SOS Children's Village Semarang) - Photo: Sebastian Posingis

The children and young people who get the chance to attend a match in one of the nine stadiums will never forget this World Cup event in their own country. Among them are four children from SOS Children's Village Rustenburg and four children supported by the SOS family strengthening programme in Rustenburg. Their good school performance is the reason why they are part of the select few who can watch the game between Ghana and Australia first hand. The achievements of the children on the family strengthening programme are even more laudable, as they have to work far harder to attend school at all, while also working to support their family. For these children, football is far more than just a ball game.

Football is popular all over the world. It is no different in the SOS Children's Villages around the globe. But for children and young people from a difficult economic and social context in particular, the charismatic appeal of football goes far beyond the realm of just sport. Football offers the possibility of escaping from depressing circumstances, even if it is only for the duration of the game. By the same token it requires social co-operation in which fair play, team spirit and responsibility are important. Football brings out talent and can create opportunities; in an ideal scenario, it can even open up a career path. It helps with co-ordination and emotional development, and playing the game is nothing to do with background and status; it can sow the seeds of hope, and does not entail a great deal of expenditure; and it produces idols with the ability to encourage their fans to believe in themselves and their capabilities.

Photo: Joris Lugtigheid
Brazil: In the country of real football champions (SOS Children's Village Poá) - Photo: Joris Lugtigheid

As one of the most committed FIFA/SOS ambassadors, the former South African team captain Lucas Radebe, commented at the laying of the foundation stone for the SOS Children's Village in Rustenburg five years ago, "Football was THE sport of the black population in South Africa back then. This was how we spent our time. It started out as a hobby and it developed into a career. For many people football was also a way of getting away from poverty and from the violence of the townships. […] You can reach anything if you work hard enough for it. If you concentrate one hundred percent on something you want to achieve, you will succeed."

SOS Children's Villages helps thousands of children in South Africa

Photo: Robert Fleischanderl
Palestinian Territories: young people in Bethlehem play on a hard surface as well – Photo: Robert Fleischanderl

Lucas Radebe knows what he is talking about, and also knows just how hard the route out of poverty, hopelessness, and violence can be. After apartheid was abolished 16 years ago, South Africa experienced a substantial economic boom. Yet for the majority of the population life is anything but easy. In 2009 the unemployment rate was running at 23.6% according to the World Bank. There is a huge gulf between rich and poor. Like many other African countries, South Africa has also been seriously affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2009, 17% of all South Africans aged between 15 and 49 suffered from AIDS. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) this immune deficiency disease has now become the most common cause of death in South Africa, even in children.

Photo: Patrick Wittmann
Nairobi, Kenya: SOS Children's Villages encourages girls and boys alike - Photo: Patrick Wittmann

SOS Children's Villages has been familiar with the country's problems for around 30 years. While the apartheid regime was still in power, SOS Children's Villages opened the first SOS Children's Village in South Africa in Ennerdale (30 kilometres south of Johannesburg) in 1982. It was a first step, for the need was also great in many other provinces. But it was only after the collapse of apartheid that the activities of SOS Children's Villages were welcomed and supported politically as well. Among the most prominent advocates were the then president, Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Today there are 33 facilities in South Africa – eight SOS Children's Villages, youth facilities, nurseries, a school and social centres offering extensive support for families in many communities. All told, SOS Children's Villages in South Africa helps around 6,650 children.

After the end of apartheid it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu's wish that his country should be rebuilt as a "Rainbow Nation", in which all ethnic groups, tribes and cultures would live in harmony. This concept of the "Rainbow Nation" is a living reality in SOS Children's Villages. Perhaps the 2010 World Cup will bring everyone in South Africa another big step closer to this goal.

FIFA and SOS Children's Villages

Photo: Robert Fleischanderl
Belarus: Ball control in SOS Children's Village Borovljany near Minsk - Photo: Robert Fleischanderl
It was in the context of sport as a beacon of hope for underprivileged children and to create an active link between sport and social responsibility that the global football federation FIFA and SOS Children's Villages established their partnership in 1995. Through this cooperative venture, numerous projects and campaigns across the world came to fruition for SOS Children's Villages, culminating in the preliminary high point of the "6 villages for 2006" campaign during the FIFA World Cup in Germany in 2006. Over 100 footballers gave and continue to give their services as FIFA/SOS ambassadors working on behalf of this partnership.