Arielle spent three weeks before the arrival of the Woza group living and working with our local partner in South Africa, Sheldon Hughes, to jump start a girl's soccer program. Over the course of those three weeks she recruited and developed relationships with different girls informally playing soccer. Her goal ways to connect the once fragmented community of Zululand girls soccer to our Woza Family and American players. Arielle recently joined the Woza full time staff this October and is excited to continue using soccer as a way to connect people all around the world. Below are her reflections of this experience.
Growing up in America, the idea of playing sports as a girl was never questioned. My parents fostered my love of soccer equal to my brother’s love of baseball. However, spending the last 6 weeks living in rural Zululand, South Africa, I quickly learned that this is not the case everywhere, especially in small towns in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. When I arrived in Mtubatuba, it immediately became apparent that creating organized structures for girls to play soccer, let alone including girls in Mtuba Football Academy (MFA) was going to be an uphill battle. Woza affiliate Gabe McGill laid some groundwork for a girls program at Mtuba Christian Academy (MCA), where he coached young girls twice a week after school during his gap year. However, the progress he made was not continued by any local and thus his dreams of a sustainable program came to a halt months before my arrival.
Over the course of the three weeks prior to the Woza trip, I worked hard to recruit girls to join Mtuba Football Academy, Woza’s biggest partner in Mtubatuba, in hopes of forming a sustainable team for girls outside of schools and local pick up soccer games. After peppering MFA boys with requests to talk to their friends and sisters about the start of an MFA girls team, a boy named Swe piped up and said he knew of girls who play constantly in the KwaMsane stadium after school. Playing the role of messenger, Swe was able to convince two of the girls to show up to the last MFA training session prior to the Woza group arrival. These brave girls, Neigh and Happiness, using their own money, made their way to the sugar mill's soccer fields on the other side of town in hopes of finding me and Sheldon, the head of MFA. They arrived with big smiles, curiosity, and excitement at the potential of organized soccer. Over the course of the two weeks the Woza group spent in Mtuba, Neigh and Happy spread the word to their friends, and 12(!) girls consistently showed up to every MFA-Woza meeting, including a friendly in Richards Bay, a 30 minutes drive from Mtuba. These girls were so inspired by the coaching, practices, and friendships they formed with Woza, that they chose to risk missing trials for the provinces’ team to join us at the friendly in Richards Bay.
At the final farewell Braai (a traditional South African barbecue) the last night of our trip, two of the assistant coaches of MFA, Coach Jomo and Coach Des, asked me if the girls program was going to continue after we left Mtuba. I reassured them that Sheldon had a plan to keep coaching them and has a 5000 rand donation from a remarkable Woza family to support the sustainability of the girls program. The coaches were inspired by these girls for defying odds, they believed in making the academy more inclusive, and expressed how they hope one day their granddaughters could be apart of MFA. Jomo and Des promised me that they would take it upon themselves to drive the program forward, supporting Sheldon to guarantee it does not fail. It was clear to me that they understood the importance of sharing this impactful program and sport with people of all genders.