It has been a very exciting and hectic couple of weeks with Grassroot Soccer. Last week, GRS began hosting its holiday programs. I co-directed one of the camps at Leresche grammar school with Karti, a year-long Grassroot Soccer intern who works with Program Director Gregz to run the entire GRS program in Soweto. I hadn’t been sure of what to expect for the camp, but wow-- I feel that it ended up being incredibly successful. To give you a sense of the camp schedule, each day participants would arrive between 8:30 and 9:00am. After receiving a breakfast bar and uniform, they would head to the fields to participate in various soccer drills to learn and practice some soccer fundamentals like passing and trapping. At 9am, we would begin our opening circle, whereby all of the kids would make a huge circle and the coaches would lead various energizers to get the kids moving, singing, and excited. This would be followed by team time, during which coaches would have a chance to check in with their team members to see how they were doing. Occurring again at the end of the day, team time could be considered the most important aspect of the program; it allows participants to develop relationships with their coaches and discuss any issues that they are facing in a completely relaxed atmosphere. The morning would then consist of two life skills-curriculum practices (GRS uses the term life skillz), such that by the end of the week the kids participated in nine of these practices. The life skillz curriculum forms the centerpiece of the camp, using games and activities to teach kids about making healthy choices and protecting themselves from HIV. One of the activities, for instance, is called “Find the Ball.” Participants stand shoulder to shoulder in two lines facing each other with their hands behind their backs. The participants pass one tennis ball to each other behind their backs without the other team seeing it, and one participant from the other team must guess who has the ball when the coach yells “Stop!” The activity is intended to show the kids that you cannot tell if someone has HIV just by looking at him or her. The only way for someone to know his or her HIV status is to get tested. Aside from the life skillz practices, participants became involved in various activities related to art and drama. Each day, they also played sports during the afternoons after lunch. The GRS central program office had planned for the kids to play soccer, but it turns out that we ran into difficulties with the soccer games. The kids were too competitive, even though they were supposed to be playing using Fair Play rules. The boys in particular continued to argue with each other and with our coaches about playing time, the number of players on each team, the goals being scored, etc. From the challenges we faced, I could see that Fair Play soccer does not always work. The experience was therefore very useful in giving me a broader context in which to consider the Fair Play games that will take place at the Football for Hope Festival. Our program ended up switching to Team Hand Ball as our afternoon activity, which was much more successful and which the kids really loved. [caption id="attachment_107" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Our Leresche program coaches"][/caption] The success of the camp ultimately boiled down to our incredible group of coaches. Our program team consisted of 10 local GRS coaches, some of whom had been involved in teaching the GRS life-skills curriculum for many months and some of whom were relatively new to GRS. Each coach was so energetic and dedicated to their program participants. They all did an amazing job of running every camp activity, while Karti and I worked mostly behind the scenes to take care of the logistics. On the last day, fifteen minutes after the final closing circle of the camp, coaches were already receiving phone calls from their participants who simply wished to ask them how they were doing. As one example of the dedication of our coaching team, one coach named Lorraine discovered during team time that one of her team members was being sexually abused at home. Lorraine accompanied the girl after camp to her home to figure out what was going on and ended up bringing the girl to the police office where they found a safe place to protect the girl from her threatening home situation. Lorraine is still working with the police and school principal to find the best solution to the problem the girl is facing. Clearly, the relationships that the coaches built with their team members had a profound impact on these kids, and it was exciting for me to watch this relationship-building process unfold. Aside from running our camp, I had an incredible week with the start of the World Cup. From Sony, GRS received tickets not only for children but also for their coaches and staff members to attend World Cup matches. I therefore found out last Thursday night that I would be going to the opening ceremony and match between South Africa and Mexico!!! I can’t even describe the feeling of being in the stadium that day—especially when Bafana Bafana scored. It seemed like the entire stadium was supporting South Africa, blowing vuvuzellas like crazy. Being in such an atmosphere really makes me believe that sport has something so unique to offer. The whole world’s eyes were on Soccer City stadium where I was sitting. [caption id="attachment_108" align="alignleft" width="239" caption="Opening Ceremony"][/caption] Before arriving in South Africa, I had also applied for and somehow succeeded in receiving tickets to all three of the USA games! The US-England game was amazing, and I was so happy that we were able to pull off a 1-1 tie. To be honest, I was a little disappointed in the number of US fans at the game. English fans had come early to the stadium and put up English flags all the way around the stadium. We American fans did not do much unified chanting or cheering. But this all changed at the US-Slovenia game, where American fans were a much stronger presence in the stadium. Though utterly demoralized at halftime during the US-Slovenia game, I was thrilled that we were able to come back to tie things up…and based on the replays of the match, we should have won the game. Maybe this shows that playing games without referees as will be the case at the Festival would be the best solution for all sporting matches! Haha I also went to the Argentina-Korean Republic match last Thursday, which was the match that all of our campers at Leresche School attended thanks to Sony’s donation. We had great seats and it was amazing in particular to see the beauty of Messi and the Argentinian style of play. Watching all of the games made me so excited to get back on the field this fall! The night before the World Cup opening match, I went with a group of GRS interns and volunteers to the Opening Concert in Soweto. It was such a great concert, with performances by Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas, John Legend, Juanes, and others. President Zuma and Bishop Desmond Tutu also spoke, and of course it finished up with Waka Waka by Shakira—pretty amazing.