Covid-19 regulations prohibit normal sports, so how do community coaches remain relevant and continue to serve in vulnerable communities?
The Grootbos Foundation normal sports programme included a feeding scheme for every child beneficiary in the afternoons at sports practice, as well as a breakfast porridge for every child attending the three Early Childhood Development centres in the Masakhane township outside Gansbaai; Covid-19 regulations and lockdown regulations in RSA meant that all schools and ECDs closed, as well as sports programmes; feeding schemes that normally operated either in school time or in the afternoons were abruptly suspended on 18 March 2020, with full lockdown imposed from 26 March 2020. The Grootbos Foundation initially packed family food parcels from 26 March, but the realization that we needed to make sure that vulnerable township children were being fed at least 1 nutritious meal every single day led to the decision to initiate a soup kitchen style Food Relief programme. Started on 16 April, the Grootbos Foundation team including coaches (in partnership with the local municipality and other volunteers), the Covid Food Relief programme feeds over 2’000 people every single day. Over 50% of these beneficiaries are children. No one is turned away – everyone who is hungry regardless of whether there is anyone in the home who still has employment, receives a meal. Our service and support of the community is now to serve the basic need of food security for the whole family. Our coaches have begun to pack and provide family food parcels for families in quarantine where there is a confirmed Covid-19 case.
How do township children make the shift to digital schooling where there is little to no access to data?
Free access to WiFi and printing for township children unable to continue their education from a shack during school closures and lockdown is provided at the Good Hope ECD hub in the centre of Masakhane. Local schools have struggled to continue offering education on new digital platforms because of lack of funds and skills, lack of infrastructure, and the enormous digital learning curve for many teachers and pupils. Matric students at under-resourced government schools have lost a minimum of 50 days of school. Matrics have now returned to school along with grade 7s, but we await the phasing in of other grades. Private schools responded faster and lost fewer school days because of access to data for both staff and learners, but this transition was not possible in many government schools, townships, rural areas and underserved regions. The Grootbos Foundation responded to the need for access to free data by setting up a free learning support classroom with PCs, internet and printer in Masakhane. The Football Foundation coaches have provided tutor support, research and project assistance, and emotional support as needed by the learners who are able to go to the learning support classroom, download their work, and access online tutorial videos.
Have local schools been able to adequately prepare for safe reopening as each grade has been phased in?
PPE packs for government schools to enable them to comply with Covid regulations have been packed and donated by Grootbos Foundation coaches. This enabled schools to reopen as planned and resume the education of vulnerable children. The Dept of Education set a list of requirements and PPE for schools to comply with, in order to safely reopen for grades in a gradual re-opening of schools from 1 June 2020 since closing on 18 March 2020. The Department made every effort to supply individual face masks, face shields, sanitizer, thermometers, etc. to schools but many schools either did not receive these in time, or did not receive sufficient supplies in order to comply. The Grootbos Foundation provided personal washable face masks and sanitizer bottles, as well as 25 litre spray bottles for cleaning, and spritzer bottles for hand sanitizer to all schools – enough for all staff, Grade 12s and Grade 7s at all local schools. We have prepared the same for each grade as it is phased back in. We remain in weekly contact with 21 different schools in order to assist with their needs. We have also received Covid 19 booklets (Grade 1-5) from our sports development partners, Laureus, to distribute at all schools, and our coaches have prepared Covid-19 Life Skills lessons to be presented as each grade returns.
VOICES FROM THE FIELD
Bongo Reenes (Grade 12 student): ‘During lockdown it was hard for me to cope with my studies and my reading material, but the educational support helped me a lot and kept me on par with my studies. I am now confident that I can graduate in my matric year.’
Palisa Maketela (Grade 12 student): ‘Thank you so much, Shereen, for helping with my tasks and projects, and for helping me finish them on time.’
Qhama Dyakophu (Grade 7 student): ‘Coach, coach, when can we go back to the field? I don’t care about finishing trials, I just want to play. I don’t understand why Corona makes us to not play. Eish, we just play on the streets anyway.’
Shereen van der Merwe (Grootbos Foundation Community Coach): ‘My lockdown experience has included working with different people, whole families sometimes, from different communities. I have really enjoyed seeing the children that we usually so sports programmes with coming to the Covid Relief Feeding scheme, but meeting a whole lot of new people within these communities where we have worked for many years has been a wonderful opportunity to get to know the communities better.’
Corrie Avenant (Grootbos Foundation Community Coach): ‘When this whole lockdown started, I don’t think anyone really knew exactly how it would affect us and what the changes would be. Everyone adapted and put up their hands to offer to help. As coaches, our roles have changed and they keep changing, but we can still see the impact we have on the community and on the kids. 80% of the kids who come to the Covid Relief Food programme are kids that are usually in our sports programmes so we still get to see their smiles as they thank us for the food. It’s amazing that everyone got together with the same goals, to help where help was most needed.’
Danver August (Grootbos Foundation Community Coach): ‘As a coach going into this lockdown period I’ve been very frustrated at not being involved with my community as usual, so I volunteered to work in the soup kitchen. At first I didn’t know what to expect and felt outside my comfort zone, but after preparing food for a while and seeing the children in a line waiting for food, I realized how my role in cooking helped serve more than 2’000 hungry people every day.’
Thank you for the support of Laureus Sports for Good, National Lotteries Commission, RTL, Prism the Gift Fund and private donations which have enabled this Covid 19 Relief Programme.