7/26/10: Football For Hope Festival
[On June 28th, Jeanette Hibbs, Co-Director of Programs, accompanied two Starfinder youth to South Africa for the two and a half week Football for Hope Festival. Following is her account of the trip. Also, click here to read the official wrap-up report from the Football For Hope Festival.]
Sawubona, Hola, Bonjour, Hallo, Ola, Hello....
Home is sweet, but the moments of the Football for Hope Festival 2010 have left a lasting flavor. Starfinder's very own Mustapha Alpha (18) and Nury Ortiz (16) joined up with six other high school students from four other cities to represent the United States at the Football for Hope Festival. Team USA was one of 32 delegations comprised of youth from disadvantaged communities from across the globe that spent 15 days in Johannesburg, South Africa for a festival celebrating education, culture and soccer.
Any adventure starts off with an obstacle or two just to warm you up for what is to come. Leaving the city of Brotherly Love wasn't as easy as we expected. When you combine a teenage girl and the concept of no laundry facilities, the end result is a shockingly oversized bag. Luckily, we had the next two hours to disseminate a portion of Nury's bedroom amongst our suitcases. We also had to work with the airline since they wouldn't allow Mustapha, holding a Sierra Leone passport, to make the trip without some manipulation of his scheduled return flight to reflect the exact end date of the festival. Many thanks to the airline representative who was persistent through every road block to make the trip a reality for Mustapha. Although our first real training session was scheduled to take place upon our arrival in South Africa, the exertion started long before we arrived. We had to hurry, hurry, hurry as we were escorted through security to ensure boarding our flight in time. After a little shuffling, a little sweat, and a brief workout we were aboard the plane to Atlanta - where we would meet up with the rest of Team USA.
After a quick stop in Atlanta and a swift introduction to other members of Team USA, Mustapha persuaded Nury to face her fear of flying on a 16 hour flight to Jo'Burg with a window seat. She masked most of her anxiety with movies and some shut eye. And then the long-awaited moment finally arrived: Team USA set foot on South African soil, as witnessed by the ubiquitous video cameras to which the team quickly became accustomed, and the high spirited volunteers who from that point forward did everything and anything for the teams.
With close to 400 people to accommodate within the Team Village in Alexandra, rooms were stocked with 2 sets of bunk beds, a storage closet for 2 bunkmates to share, no electrical outlets and only enough room to breathe. The number of bodies would cause anyone to have a logistical nightmare, but the Festival organizers were well prepared and worked diligently to smooth out any kinks. For all activities, delegations were divided into 4 groups and 2 groups for meal and shower schedules.
The first half of the Festival consisted of various workshops, training clinics, historical field trips, and cultural enrichment. From early morning to late at night, the days were jam packed with excitement, laughter and adventure. Each activity group alternated through an HIV/AIDS learning workshop, Coerver Coaching soccer clinic, Johannesburg tour, and tour of the community of Alexandra. In the little down time provided, the youth participants sought out quality moments with each other on the soccer courts, playing foosball, pool, Playstation, pingpong, waiting for an open computer or just storytelling.
It was not long before the youth began mimicking each other's native greetings, songs, unique dance moves, games and creative handshakes. For instance, the Cambodian bow reflected such respect and discipline that 99% of the Team Village subconsciously imitated their every move.
Time spent traveling to and from various historical sites fostered moments of enlightenment. Team USA captured the passionate family oriented personalities of the Latin Americans as we exchanged sing-a-long songs with the Argentineans and Chileans for an entire bus ride to Constitutional Court. Touring historical buildings that were once host to harsh oppression and inequality, witnessing the beauty and power of wild life, experiencing communities that currently live in poverty, and experiencing the unimaginable energy of a live World Cup quarterfinal match brought to the surface the gratitude that is buried deep down within the youth. By the way, our group excursions carried high celebrity status, halting traffic as our caravan of eleven buses cruised through with police escorts sweeping by to block out interfering vehicles.
The second half of our trip celebrated the universal language of sport, soccer! There was an indescribable feeling of excitement, anticipation, sympathy and honor as the Festival tournament kicked off with a mile long parade of all 32 delegations dressed head to toe in their brand new Adidas kits, accompanied by dance teams, drummers and an array of performers. From a local parking lot through the township of Alexandra we marched, waving flags, high fiving residents who lined up along the road, flashing cameras to ensure every second was accounted for, holding back tears with a smile as families jumped with such enthusiasm and joyfulness and the letters U-S-A were harmonized among the crowd.
"I can feel it in the air," Mustapha reflected on the energy churning around him and the sea of smiling faces in front of his eyes. "It reminds me of when I was a kid in Sierra Leone."
We headed straight into the stadium filled with hundreds of resident youth who were on their feet doing the waka waka to the vuvuzela beat as we circled the pitch and took our seats. It took a few moments for the teams to get a handle on the overwhelming sight and the realization that the people in the stands were there to see and support them. FIFA President Sepp Blatter and South African President Jacob Zuma honored the Festival participants and encouraged them to continue to use soccer as a means for social change. Over the next few days, the tournament was played without referees, empowering youth to decide fouls in the spirit of "Fair Play." Before each match, opposing teams came together to discuss the rules to play by -negotiating restarts such as corners, throw-ins, etc. to assist in the friendly flow of the game. The teams would reconvene for a post game wrap up to iron out any disagreements or reinforce excellent display of fair play by awarding a "Fair Play" point. The nature of this game inspires youth to compete without the intent of foul play and encourages integrity.
Team USA bolted out of the starting gates with a first record of 4-2-1 qualifying them to compete in the Football for Hope Festival group stage. The next three games proved to be challenging, especially after losing a teammate to a fractured bone. (When foot meets face, the face rarely wins!) Despite early elimination, Team USA continued to be the champion in the eyes of one little youngster. Decked out in donated childhood gear from Team USA player Max Watson and a Starfinder Foundation scarf provided by Nury and Mustapha, waving a red, white and blue flag, "Rod" (our shortened version of his more complicated name) and his crew cheered and raved through every Team USA match. He was quick to greet the team after a loss and re-channel the players' energy on getting the oh-so complicated handshake of Alexandra correct.
Goodbye was one word that did not roll easily off the tongues of departing delegations as last minute exchanges were made of hugs, contact information and little mementoes with new found friends. These parting gifts will serve as more than just a decorative piece in a cluttered room, but as sentimental memories of the world beyond four walls and the impact individuals have the power to create with just a ball.
Special thanks to the folks that made the HOPE a reality: streetfootballworld, FIFA, 2010 FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee and the City of Johannesburg.