Each of us have a few moments in our life that we just know are meant for a reason. Four years ago on a Sunday afternoon, I had one of those moments when I was offered scholarship to Belmont University. That single phone call made my dream of attending college a reality. As I reflect on the past few years—the friends I’ve made, the person I’ve become, the things I’ve learned—that moment becomes more and more precious.
Another one of those moments was being granted a Lumos Award: the very reason I’m sitting in South Africa right now, watching the sun set on one of my final days of this ten week journey. When I applied, I had little more than an idea of what I wanted to do and a desire to make it happen. Africa was just a place on a map, and “global community development” was a term I had studied but never experienced. Now, seventy days and a lifetime of memories later, I’ve not only experienced these things; I’ve been transformed by them.
The biggest thing I’ve learned about moments like these is that they’re never by happenstance. They have to be created. Yes, I had to prepare myself for both of those opportunities, but ultimately somebody had to create them for me. Somebody, in both cases people I had never met before, had to believe in me, decide that I was worth supporting, and help me to achieve my dream, first of coming to college, then of coming here.
I am not extraordinary. I learned that quickly when I came here. I’ve met boys and girls who at the age of ten could put singers like Sam Smith and Beyoncé to shame, young athletes who have the makings of David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo, prodigies in the classroom who are light years ahead of their other classmates. These kids are nothing short of extraordinary, and the only thing more surprising than their talent and passion is that most of these children will go unheard, unnoticed. They simply don’t have the opportunity.
United Through Sport is aiming to change that. For the past ten years, they have not only empowered thousands of children through sports coaching and academic mentoring but given these extraordinary kids the opportunities to take them from a life of powerlessness to a life of purpose. Through the Junior and Senior School of Excellence, these children are receiving additional academic and athletic support, enough to take them to university and beyond.The Senior School of Excellence would not be possible without the vision of Nick Mould, founder and director of United Through Sport South Africa. I had the chance to sit down with him and talk a little bit more about this organization’s history. “When I was visiting family in South Africa, one of the first things I noticed was that there were very few sports programs in the townships. Sport is a big part of my life, so I ended up playing with children in the townships. Soon enough, volunteers started coming out here to play sports with the children and do basic coaching. After a while we started noticing that many of their relatives or friends were sick or dying from HIV/AIDS, so we started incorporating preventative and educational programs alongside coaching. As we became more involved in the lives of the children we were coaching, we realized that over 60% of them were failing their matriculation (high school graduation) exams, and without that, wouldn’t be able to progress to anything else, even if they were gifted in sports. So we started adding academic support and eventually funding scholarships to former model C schools. Those were the foundations of what came to be the Junior and Senior School of Excellence.”
Former Model C schools were reserved to all whites during apartheid in South Africa. These top-tier schools are a stark contrast to the rest of South Africa’s education system and are able to prepare students to graduate and attend university. Although they are legally non-segregated, the school fees required to attend are astronomical for a child from a township, regardless of how talented they are. Without assistance, there is a mere 3% chance that a child from a township will attend university in their lifetime. A child in the Junior or Senior School of Excellence increases their chances to 89 percent. That’s the moment they’ve been waiting for.Those numbers are overwhelming to be sure, but they’re nothing compared to meeting one of the first graduates of the Senior School of Excellence program, a somewhat-shy 19 year old named Lindiwe who is currently in her first year of university at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth majoring in Politics and Psychology. I had the chance to chat with her at Pearson, the school she was able to attend thanks to the academic, athletic, and financial support of the Senior School of Excellence.
“Growing up in the township, I always knew that I wanted to attend university and become a lawyer,” she says. “The Senior School of Excellence literally changed my life. I never thought that I would go to a school like Pearson, I never thought I would get to go to Brazil (she was invited to play street soccer there during Brazil’s World Cup), and I never imagined being able to go to university. I honestly can’t imagine where I would be without this organization. I probably would have just been stuck with just my dream. But now, I’m getting to make this dream a reality.”
Talking to current participants in the Senior School of Excellence echoes the same sentiment. Each and every one of the students I talked to has aspirations to attend university, and they’ve got the merits to do it: working harder than most on both the sports field and in the classroom in order to keep up with their other classmates. Studying at this level can be overwhelming to someone from the townships, where most classes are taught in Xhosa, not English, and teachers actually have a vested interest in students’ academic success. “It’s really challenging, especially in the first year,” one participant said. “But the fact that we’re getting to attend this kind of school and have a real shot at going to university makes me want to work harder.”Each of us wouldn’t be where we are today without someone giving us an opportunity to become something more. Over the last two and a half months, I’ve met dozens of kids who are just waiting for their little moment, the one that has the potential to change their life. I’ve been honored to be a small a part of an organization that has helped make those dreams a reality in a huge way. Today, I’m extending the challenge to you.
A donation to the Senior School of Excellence goes directly to providing scholarships, transport, educational materials, uniforms, and academic assistance to children in this program. If you choose to sponsor a child directly, you are able to be updated on their specific progress both academically and in their sport of choice. A one time donation to the Senior School of Excellence will be allocated equally to the current participants. My goal is to raise $960, which is the cost of sponsoring a child for an entire year as a participant in this program.
I’m hoping in faith that you, friends and readers, will join me in supporting the Senior School of Excellence. While there are many incredible organizations out there that are doing so much to empower and uplift others, I’ve had the opportunity to experience this one firsthand, and I will forever be changed for having been part of this movement. Join me in supporting United Through Sport in South Africa and changing the lives of thousands of children. This is our moment to give them theirs.
Visit my TotalGiving page to view giving goals, learn more about United Through Sport, and join the cause.
Thank you for your love and support throughout this entire journey, and for the legacy we will leave together.