September Skillz Street Sessions

This month, we have been busy running Skillz Street, a girls-targeted intervention. The program combines Fair Play soccer with activities designed to teach about HIV and encourage assertiveness, efficacy, and relationship-building.  Whereas we deliver our core curriculum during school hours, Skillz Street takes place after school.  I have been working with Phindi (Assistant Site Coordinator), Tumi (Master Coach), and 9 of our female coaches to run the program—a group of incredible women.

The program involves 10 sessions, usually taking place over the course of 5 weeks.  Since we need to finish the program by September 30th (the end of the school quarter), we’ve been working 2-3 times a week, simultaneously in two separate high schools.  On Mondays and Tuesdays, we work in Emshukantambo High School and on Wednesdays and Thursdays, we work in Thaba-Jabula High School.  We have also integrated 2 Friday sessions that combine the girls from both schools.

We had a hard time recruiting girls to the program initially.  Despite having met numerous times with the principals of both schools, handed out consent forms, and made announcements during morning assemblies, we only had 21 girls show up for our first day at Emshukantambo.  We continued our recruiting efforts, however, and managed to bump our numbers up to about 65 at Emshu and 70 at TJ.

Most sessions follow a similar schedule.  We begin with “Opening Circle,” where the coaches make a huge circle with all the girls and run different energizers to get them excited.  We usually attract the attention of the entire student body since our coaches are so good at running energizers.  We then move into “Team Time,” a period of about 10 minutes when coaches informally meet with about 10 girls that have been assigned to their teams during the first session. 

We devote about 30 minutes to an activity set out in the curriculum.  Several activities center on “street albums,” booklets given to each girl for writing and drawing.  During the “Community Mapping” activity, girls draw a map of their communities.  They discuss their maps with their teams, considering why some areas feel unsafe and what they can do to avoid these areas.  During the “Supporting 11” activity, girls make a list of specific supporters they have in life and come up with examples of times they would go to these individuals for support.

After the activity, we run Fair Play soccer games for about 30 minutes.  I have mostly been in charge of the Fair Play so far, which is a lot of fun.  Many of the girls have never had an opportunity to play soccer before.  We create teams of players and supporters, switching them half-way through.  The coaches lead the supporters in all kinds of chants and cheers.  The energy is incredible.  Fair Play soccer gives girls a chance to make their own rules, without the use of referees.  I centered my thesis research on the concept of Fair Play, so it’s been very interesting to see more instances of its implementation.  My favorite rule that girls suggest is for both teams to celebrate a goal, meaning that every single person pretty much goes crazy when the ball goes in the net.  We end our sessions with a “Closing Circle” and “Closing Team Time.”  We also provide all girls with a snack before they go home.  The program runs from about 2:30pm to 4:00pm.  Our coaches and staff always de-brief at the end of the day.

Tumi, Phindi, and I have been spending almost all of our time on Skillz Street this month (especially since it takes place virtually every day), and it has been exciting to see how the program has progressed since we began on September 5th.  Things never go exactly as expected, but we have adjusted to circumstances well.  I love having the chance to get to know our coaches better and watch them in action.  We almost never end on time, usually because coaches and girls will break into song during closing circle and start dancing together.  What a wonderful way to end a day.



Coach Brown leads girls in a closing song



Supporters rush the field after a goal is scored


Closing team time