Juvenile Gangs. Tik (Meth). HIV/AIDS. Those tend to be the top characteristics of life in the townships, with the latter not being regularly monitored or discussed in the community.
But this morning we were greeted by Mario, the founder of the GCU Academy, at his house in the township of Heideveld to see the other side of the media’s projection of South African “slums”. A former street gang member himself (who admittedly organized murders, but never killed a man), Mario has turned his lifestyle around to engage the youth, by taking them off the streets and bringing them to the soccer field. To help us better understand what he deals with on a regular basis, he popped in a journalist’s documentary on life in the township. Not really knowing what to expect of the day ahead, we would eventually meet several of the kids that were interviewed. With kids as young as 8 being fed Tik by their parents to stave off hunger to other youngsters surviving repeated stab wounds, the street violence is an unending battle. Mario is trying to address this vicious cycle by recruiting his own soccer “gang,” which gives the kids discipline that they would otherwise not receive from their own parents. But with limited funding, the sustainability of GCU is daily struggle.
The day was haphazardly organized. At one moment we were reading to 5th graders and helping them with their assignments. The next moment we were driving teenage gang members to the police station to help safeguard them from their death warrant speculated from their counterparts. Nonetheless, we left feeling very inspired by Mario’s work and are looking forward to volunteering to teach some after school lessons next week.
Leaving the township was an adventure in itself. Jumping into one of the death defying minivans, we headed back to the city center for just 10 Rand (~$1.25) compared to our 200 Rand taxi ride in. With the driver pumping Busta Rymes, conversing with passengers of other moving vehicles and insisting on lighting his cigarette while steering with his forearms, we made managed to make it home safely.