Day the Fremantle Dockers brought joy to South Africa town
Article from: Herald Sun
January 31, 2008 12:00am
THE street kids of the Thakeneng Project in South Africa have no idea who the big men in the purple shirts are, but they smile when they enter their world and keep smiling for the hour they spend with them.
Their lives, ever so slowly being repaired by some amazing carers, have been horrific.
A brochure outlining the project’s work explains that about 50 kids under its care have usually suffered the most despicable types of abuse.
For these kids on this day, though, there is only happiness. Big men in purple shirts have arrived to see them. Better still, there are footballs to kick and they get to keep the balls and a purple cap.
The project’s manager, Corrie Engelbrecht, is adamant this day will be recorded by the kids as a life highlight. Remembered as the day some adults spent some quality time with them and made them feel like the most special people on earth.
When it’s time for the Fremantle players to leave, the kids burst into beautiful song, the players mesmerised by the power of their noise and actions.
The kids finish that song and begin another. They know there is no way the big guys will leave if they keep singing.
But their music is stopped by a carer, and final goodbyes, hugs, handshakes, high-fives and down-lows are made.
The kids are disappointed, but have been told they will be driven by bus to watch the big guys play "foo-ty" against some other big guys in navy blue on Saturday, so there’s something else to look forward to.
"And that doesn’t happen a lot," Engelbrecht said. "All we want to do is make a difference to a child’s life, and when that happens, we are so grateful to see that joy and, as you can no doubt see yourself, there is joy here today."
The Dockers travelled from the street kids’ project to the Potchefstroom Prison. On the jail’s sports field, they kicked footies and exchanged stories with a dozen or so prisoners serving life sentences. They walked through the women’s ward, where some were heartbroken at the sight of inmates tending to babies.
They were shown the maximum security division, from which few prisoners leave.
Just as the innocent kids had done, the prisoners didn’t stop smiling — even those who looked about 16 and were doomed to a life in hell, sleeping in the same 5m x 5m space with 19 other lifers.
"I can’t believe how happy they look," Docker Byron Schammer observed.
If you ever stop to analyse the sights on offer in most parts of South Africa, it makes for dreadful, teary analysis.
But the people so often have a smile, or at least a buoyancy in their step.
There are the kids who are having the time of their lives rolling a tyre down a busy street and the old guys sitting outside their near-derelict cottages, without power or running water, but who have enough pride to manicure their small lawns.
Docker Des Headland, an indigenous Australian, says he can relate to indigenous South Africa.
"It is what they are brought up with and they accept things. They deal with what they’ve got and the life they have, yet they have a passion for that life," Headland said.
"Look at some of the kids we’ve seen today. You can’t believe what they’ve been through already in their lives and they’ve all got happy faces and are running around and smiling. And their smiles put smiles on our faces, too."
Headland’s Aboriginal teammate Jeff Farmer said it was always best to look at life positively.
"You try not to harp on that (the helplessness) too much; you try to bring a little bit of joy and a little bit of happiness for these kids," Farmer said.
"We are only here for 10 days, but you can already tell that that’s enough time to maybe make a difference, maybe change a kid’s life in terms of bringing a bit of joy."
After the prison visit, the players conduct a footy clinic in the Ikageng community on the fringes of Potchefstroom. There are more than 500 wide smiles when they arrive, but the happiest face belongs to Tebogo Raditsabena, a volunteer who helps coach locals in the art of Australian football.
Raditsabena has no legs. Puma shoes, worn backwards, protect the ends of what was left of his legs after he was severely burned as a child.
Some fear that now the big guys in purple have moved on, so many South African people uplifted by their visit will now revert to a life that seemingly has so little to look forward to.
Which is why Farmer’s words need to be absorbed.
"They’ll have the memories, mate, I know they will, and that will mean a lot to them," he said.