This is the story of how an African sports project is helping support those with Aids and changing lives because of it.
Just miles from the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg, the men, women and children of Palmridge township live in homes built from little more than scrap.
An estimated 700,000 people live here. Conditions are cramped and, despite being surrounded by an industrial area, unemployment is high.
It is little surprise luxuries such as sport and places to play are hard for the youngsters to come by.
Thankfully, however, they are not all lost.
Past a patch of what looks like a rubbish dump, an unlikely expanse of field sits at the town’s edge. It is a place where the area’s young people can come with friends to play cricket, kick a football around, even play netball. A place where they know they are safe.
It is a place where they can escape from the cramped houses in which some of them live.
And for a small few, it is a place where they can learn that despite being born with HIV, they still have a rich and fulfilling life ahead of them.
Much of this is thanks to the work of the Laureus-supported Sport for All project, an incredible venture that is helping change the lives of young people from the township in remarkable ways and helping them deal with some of the tough issues they face.
One of the most challenging of these is the high rate of HIV/Aids in the area.
“Most houses are headed by children whose parents have died through the disease,” says Agresham Shingange, a leader at the project. “We make sure we can help these kids and that they realise they’re valuable people, whether they have the disease or not.”
Agresham makes it clear that despite the fight being won to offer better treatment to people with HIV/Aids in South Africa, another, more persistent problem remains: the stigma that living with Aids can still place on people in South Africa.
“This stigma around the disease is a problem,” Shingange says. “We are teaching those with the disease to accept themselves, which is key. We teach that they are human beings just like anyone else.”
Helping support young people with HIV/Aids is one of the project’s most important aims. Shingange explains why this is the case. He talks of how he has seen young people grow up withdrawn into themselves, not taking advantage of school opportunities and ultimately falling further into ill health without any support at all.
This is what he and the Sport for All team hope work tirelessly to change.
The figures for HIV/Aids prevalence in South Africa are nothing but tragic. The BBC reports that over 10% of the population has the disease, resulting in 2.1 million children being left orphaned.
Shingange can testify to this reality. In Palmridge, he is familiar with seeing homes led by children barely 15 years old. And those orphans who have developed the disease themselves are often left with no-one to turn to. Live-saving drugs may be on offer to these individuals, but it isn’t necessarily easy to get access to them without help and support from someone else.
Sport for All helps with just such practical problems of life with Aids.
“We help them liaise with government departments dealing with these issues. Making sure they are taking the medication the government offers them.”
And by using sport as the tool to attract them in the first place, the support available to these youngsters doesn’t stop at securing medication; it goes on to a whole package of life-support.
“These kids are so often without the right information about the government departments that can help. So, with our assistance, they can approach the right people for grants, clothes, housing and food. With or without the disease we want them to be something in life. That’s the message we’re trying to give.
And the changes have proved profound.
“We are seeing the impact. One girl,” he explains, “whose parents died of Aids, was particularly vulnerable. She was ill. She stopped going to school. But we encouraged her to go back and were even able to support her with her school fees.”
“She succeeded and completed her high school studies. Now she wants to give back to us and she coaches other kids that are suffering now as she once did. She is making sure they have a new lease of life too.
This incredible work is being done throughout the world, proving sport isn’t just great fun but really can change lives.
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