What’s more exciting? Putting on your first pair of new soccer boots, or seeing an elephant in the wild for the first time?
For 120 children living in villages close to the Kruger National Park, the Wild About Soccer programme provided an opportunity to do both. Wild About Soccer is a joint initiative between Dreamfields and South African National Parks (SANParks) which was launched in September 2008. DreamEvents are held in communities bordering on national parks and South Africa’s national conservation body uses the opportunity to teach the children about conservation and to improve relations with their neighbours.
“Children in the black communities are not exposed to the work that SANParks does,” says Chief Operating Officer Sydney Soundy. “If we change this when they are young, through Wild About Soccer and the other programmes for young people that we run, it will be much better for our future, and good for our business.”
Wild About Soccer 2008 saw four communities bordering on Kruger benefit. This year we also extended the programme to Golden Gate National Park in the Free State and Marakele in Limpopo. Kruger Park communities once again benefited, with tournaments held at the Punda Maria, Numbi and Paul Kruger gates. And the winning teams, boys and girls, were rewarded with a weekend trip to Skukuza and a chance to experience one of Africa’s greatest reserves.
“Conservation is a critical issue and we need to use whatever opportunity we can to raise awareness about this, to excite our kids about the environment,” says Xolile Caga, Group Transformation Manager at Edcon. “Using Dreamfields and soccer for this is a great idea. In this area they are surrounded by parks and yet very few of these children have actually visited them. They don’t know what our national parks stand for.”
Soundy can relate to that: “Before I started working for SANParks, I had never visited the Kruger National Park, despite growing up in Phalaborwa which is just a few kilometres away. My 14-year-old son has been going often. He loves the park and each time we go he always wants to bring his friends with him.”
Edcon staged the Paul Kruger Gate tournament, adding to their contribution at Marakele earlier this year. Other contributors included Total at Punda Maria, law firm Read Hope Phillips and journalist Gavin Evans who ran a marathon in Scotland to fund his contribution. And SANParks has come up with a brilliant initiative to support Wild About Soccer and other programmes aimed at teaching children conservation.
The Kuduzela is similar to the vuvuzela, but shaped like a kudu horn, and made largely of recycled plastic. Backed by FNB, this is SANParks colourful (and musical) contribution to our country’s World Cup celebrations. And more important, a portion of sales will go to projects that involve children in conservation – Wild About Soccer has already benefited from kuduzela sales to the tune of R100 000.
At the Wild About Soccer finals in Skukuza – after all the children had been on a game drive – the kuduzelas blew loudest for two teams from the Orpen gate. Matikinya Primary played like the Mpumalanga champions they are, to win the girls’ event, and the Mahlekisana boys defended theirWild About Soccer title in style.