South African football programme reduces teenage pregnancy

|PIC1|A sports and community support initiative in the underprivileged Paarl East region of South Africa is having a significant effect on the social issues faced by girls from the local community.

For the last two years World Emergency Relief (WER) has been supporting an innovative Sports and Community Programme, which uses football as a means to help children and teenagers address the various social issues they face.

In the underprivileged townships of Paarl East and Mbekweni there is high unemployment is high, cramped housing conditions, and many children risk getting drawn into crime and gang culture, or drug and alcohol abuse. A lack of a safe place to socialise outside of school, combined with peer pressure and social breakdown means that boys and girls often face uncertain futures.

Since 2007, WER’s involvement, in collaboration with Monte Christo Ministries (MCM), has helped grow the programme to offer young people a structured outlet where they can express themselves in a positive way.

“Among the programme’s many successes has been the profound effect that it has had on the lives of the community’s teenage girls,” says Alex Haxton, WER Director of Operations.

Girls can play too

In addition to the flourishing U13 and U15 boys’ leagues, the MCM Sports programme in Paarl has been very influential in developing a provincial women’s league. The 2009 season started a couple of months ago and this year there are 16 active girls’ teams.

As well as receiving quality football coaching from trained MCM Sports coaches, all of the girls also receive support from ‘life skills’ coaches, who work alongside the football coaches to help girls deal with the various social issues that they face and mentor them to overcome these problems. A clear indication of just how life-changing the programme has been is that there has been a virtual eradication of unplanned pregnancy among girls taking part.

Approximately 30 – 40 % of teenage girls from East Paarl and Mbekweni will typically be pregnant at any one time. The pregnancies are generally unplanned and can have a hugely negative effect on these girls’ future prospects. Promisingly, in the last 18 months, only one girl out of 200 participants has had an unplanned pregnancy.

Changing lives one goal at a time

Francisco Naude, MCM’s Sports Director explains that the football programme offers girls some vital time away from the troubles they often face in their home lives: “Many of these girls live in rural areas and wouldn’t even be able to get to the centre in order to attend coaching If we didn’t have our own transport to pick them up,” he says.

“When you see these girls’ family situations you realise just how important the sports programme is for them. Many of them share one-bed houses with up to seven family members and some have brothers that are addicted to drugs or suffer from alcohol abuse. On the football pitch they can escape from all that for a period of time.”

Roxanne, one of the programme’s success stories, explains that five of her close girlfriends living on her street are pregnant: “They aren’t involved in the programme like I am,” she says. “The life skills coaches taught me how to handle peer pressure.”

In the little time it has been running, the Sports and Community Programme has managed to get exposure for some of its girls’ team members, leading to sports bursaries. The valuable mentoring sessions help them to deal with the ongoing social issues they face on a daily basis on the streets and at home.

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