Members of the US department of state’s Global Sports Mentoring Programme visited Komani-based Khayalethemba Special Care Centre’s youth to find out about the challenges and needs of the centre, with the aim of finding solutions.
The visit to the centre on Thursday was recommended by local international soccer and premier soccer league referee, Akhona Makhalimi.
Director at the University of Tennessee Centre for Sport, Peace and Society, Sarah Hillyer, said: “The centre is devoted to using sport as a tool for peace building, women empowerment and for the inclusion of the rights of people with disabilities.
“I came to follow up on three South Africans who came to the us for five weeks to participate in one of our programmes [sponsored by the us department of state], of which Makhalimi was part of recently.
“Our government is looking around the world for people like Makhalimi who are good sports people, whether they are referees, coaches, administrators or journalists – people who are using the platform of sport to promote the human rights of people who are often forgotten or deprived of theirs.”
She said she was informed that the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality had threatened to shut the centre down and send pupils to another area of the township which would be too far for the youth to access.
She said the municipality should prioritise community centres as valuable institutions for people to access.
“If the youth are moved, they will have no daily transport. The centre is here because the pupils are in this community.
“Every township needs a centre otherwise children will stay at home and become victims of crime and sexual abuse.
“They will have nowhere to go and will literally wither away and die because of lack of engagement with society.”
Hillyer added that there were people in the us who could gladly develop Khayalethemba.
“It would be so easy for donors to contribute things such as security fencing and resources for the institute, but the reason they will not is because there is no guarantee that the municipality will not take the property away.”
She said she was blessed to work in more than 80 countries.
“I have seen a lot of institutions and for the unbelievably few resources this centre has, it is doing quite well despite the lack of funding, security, water and other resources and wide support from the public.
“They are doing a fantastic job with the variety of disabilities they are dealing with.
“These children feel loved, appreciated and noticed, their joy is showing.
“They are respectful and good listeners and are willing to try new things. I do not see this in many places.
“I am impressed, the youth are talented and have great potential,” she said.
The pupils were also treated to sports activities by the team.
“Today is all physical activities without medals, just playing together and trying out new things by moving our bodies.
“When a person is disabled they feel a loss of control in every part of their lives.
“They do not feel as if they have control mentally. Sport gives us control to choose how we will move our bodies.”
Makhalimi said: “We brought the team to Khayalethemba to include the children because they have been isolated from people and society. I came here in 2012 to spend time with them.
“Today we came here to make them feel that they have a part in sport and for them to feel accepted and loved.”
Hillyer said she had attended a five-week programme in the us aimed at helping women and girls to participate in sport.
“It is about how best we can expand women’s participation in sport and to see how we can use sport as a tool to break the barriers of poverty and the marginalised and use it as a tool to assist the economy.”