Tag Archives: Mdantsane Village

Great news from the Eastern Cape: “Let Us Protect Our Future!” a go!

All over the world, the bureaucratic machine moves slowly. Organizations lumber towards results, interrupted by fiscal years and approval processes. Sometimes brilliant ideas wither and expire before before they’ve had a chance at the table.

In Africa, action sometimes masquerades as idleness. Initiative must take an indirect path. It’s anti-intuitive to the western visitor, and can test our patience. This is no place for frenzied activity, for make-work. Results come more easily to those who understand that the companionable conversation is part of negotiation, not a distraction.

So imagine my surprise to hear that in the meager five months since I left the Eastern Cape, Craig has succeeded where many have given up in frustration. This story picks up where my visit to the Duncan Village Day Hospital left off, way back in October ’09. Here’s what I remember most: Nomalizo’s confident, friendly, energetic face. She was the peer educator who handled the PMTCT workshop in the hospital’s crowded corridor, giving her presentation in both isiXhosa and English. Word was that project funding was set to expire in December ’09 so Craig was there to see if he could employ the peer presenters through his department.

I kept up with the status of the proposal by monitoring Craig’s uniformly exhausted-sounding status updates. Then, recently, this: “Craig Carty just got the email stating that the contract with the hospital network has been signed!!! Prevention education for South Africa’s most at-risk kids a go!!!” In this case (and only in this case), I can excuse the flagrant abuse of exclamation points. This is really big news.

In Craig’s own words (detailed, and very much worth the read):

Adolescent-centered health care is missing from provincial, government-run hospitals. Kids between 10-19 are lumped in with adults, thus many of them become “lost to follow-up” or return to clinics with “adult” problems.  We know that the highest rate of HIV in this country is diagnosed in 20-25 year olds, therefore it is assumed that most contract the illness in their teens. Often they present at hospitals with advanced stages of AIDS as indicated by opportunistic infections which only arise in patients with seriously-damaged immune systems.  If you couple the problems of overburdened ARV clinics with consistent issues of funding, kids presenting with AIDS are kids without a fighting chance at survival.  That’s the reality.  Plus, South Africa just stepped up their treatment standards to match those of the rest of the world in December of 2009.

We created an adolescent-centered education program based upon years of research and data collection from area amaXhosa communities. It is called “Let Us Protect Our Future!” and is co-authored by Drs. John and Loretta Jemmott and Ms. Lynette Gueits.  Initially, it was designed for dissemination within the Department of Educaton as a tool to augment the existing life skills programs.  For logistical reasons, this fell through.  Working with the provincial government, particularly with certain departments, can be daunting (think meetings to discuss meetings to discuss meetings to discuss funding to discuss “how much we’ll get out of this,” etc.).

Shortly after my arrival in South Africa, I was approached by a very passionate physician working within the hospitals of the Eastern Cape. She proposed looking at the manner by which we could disseminate our prevention education program within hospitals, drawing from the patient populations in abortion clinics, maternity wards, HIV care clinics, casualty care (abused kids), pediatrics and chronic care (diabetics, etc.). So we did.

We sent the curriculum to the adolescent division of the CDC for analysis. The feedback was great.  We met with the CEO of local hospitals (Frere and Cecilia Makiwane) as well as the Chief of Clinical Governance.  We developed a 20-page Memorandum of Understanding (ugh) so that we could ultimately “gift” our work unto the health department over the course of about 12 months.  They agreed to integrate the campaign into their 5-year fiscal program which, conveniently, started in April of this year.  But the contract-signing part dragged on and on.  It was a nail-biting experience since our training team was waiting in the wings with airline tickets reserved and I was working long nights perfecting the art of panic.

On March 31, 2010, they signed the contract. For all intents and purposes, it was a go and I was able to sleep through the night (only to wake up on April Fool’s Day wondering if it was a joke—it wasn’t).

This new program will provide a foundation that will demonstrate to the Provincial Dept of Health that the construction of new adolescent wings within our two major launch hospitals is an imperative. I was once told by a high-ranking government official that “first, you must prove that you can work in the conditions provided.”  Then, she added, “ If you can make it work, they will build you space.”  So we’re cramming ourselves into unused waiting areas adjacent to abortion clinics for the first round of pilots. And we’ll make it work.

One pediatric physician was concerned that her HIV + kids would be left out. Not so.  Those already living with HIV will be educated in terms of prevention of transmission (commonly referred to as “prevention for positives”) alongside those without HIV.  Since all the sessions are run in groups of 10-20, this will build a sense of fellowship and reduce stigma.

That same physician expressed worry about the work burden on her staff. No need to fret, I said.  The “Let Us Protect Our Future!” campaign is designed to be self-sustaining through the employment of people like Nomalizo Nonkwelo who was recruited from a de-funded prevention education project in Duncan Village. For a minimal financial output, the hospitals will maximize the reduction of repeat cases of abortion, STI treatments, etc. through empowering their most vulnerable patients.  In the long term, we’ll be reducing the burden.  In addition, we have integrated the National Campaign for HIV Counseling and Testing into the curriculum.  All participants will be referred for HIV-testing if they have not already been.

During my last conversation with the Chief of Clinical Governance (an amazingly calm and collected woman despite her incredibly-stressful post) stated, “I hope you are ready to be very busy.  Every hospital in the Eastern Cape will want this campaign once we’ve completed the integration in our two hospitals.” Her assertion is great news, indeed!  We’ll just have to muster up the energy (and funds!) to make it happen.

Once the pilots are completed and the campaign is successfully integrated, we anticipate drawing on even more of the de-funded agencies to hire more staff to hopefully enact this program in all hospitals throughout the province (but I’ve got my sights set on the entire country). It’s a lofty goal, but I have a capable, eager and determined team with a vested interest in stopping the epidemic in its tracks within this demographic.  I’ve also been told that I’m too idealistic and that burn-out is right around the corner.  Perhaps, but if South Africa foresees a future free of HIV, directing initiatives and funds toward the highest-risk populations in the highest-risk settings is key to making this happen and we’ll just have to buck up and deal.
– Craig Carty, “Let Us Protect Our Future!” campaign

Maybe this by-line should be “Craig Carty, Bureaucratic Machine-slayer”. Bravo to you for having the meetings about having meetings, and for getting your vision to the table. I could not be more impressed, my friend.


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Do-goodery on wheels (Call for sponsorship)

The Friends for Life Bike Rally is an annual week-long cycling trip (Toronto – Montreal) fund raiser with proceeds going to the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. If you live in Toronto, you might know somebody who’s done or is doing this amazing ride. I do, and I’ve offered to help him publicize his effort through the blog. Why? A couple of reasons: The FFL rally is a creative and interesting fund raiser for super-good cause, and Christopher is a fellow soccer player having his own adventure in do-goodery.

Also, after watching him dance around in various states of undress, a little PR was the least I could do. Let me explain: Christopher Hayden’s alias is Bruin Pounder, and he’s a performer in BoylesqueTO, Toronto’s all-male burlesque troupe. He’s also the founder of the ARTWHERK! Collective, and an all-around good guy. Though he’s not sharing all of his plans for the event just yet, he confides that Bruin will making an appearance somewhere along the 660km ride.

“This will be my first year participating in the ride,” says Christopher. “One of my main interests in this event is supporting the PWA. They have been leaders in providing support to people living with AIDS in Toronto since 1987. This isn’t something I’m doing necessarily as a gay guy, because HIV/AIDS affects people from so many different communities. I am doing the ride to support my city, promote HIV/AIDS prevention and to help provide services to people that are living with AIDS. Money is great but so is participation. We owe it to our communities to tell stories and advocate for things we believe in.”

What do you get for your donation, you ask?

“Any donations over $20 get a tax receipt … and my plan is to make a t-shirt with the names of all the people who sponsor me on it. I will wear it one day during the ride to show Canada who has got my back (literally and figuratively) for this challenge.”

Ready to make your tax-deductible donation and get your name on that shirt? Click here to reach Christopher’s donor page.

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Do-goodery: achieved; Mountain Birds outfitted and undefeated

Day before yesterday Craig drove out to Potsdam, which is beyond Mdantsane, past NU-18  where the rural areas meet the township. There, he delivered the equipment we collected and got to watch the Mountain Birds practice.

At practice in Potsdam

Two Mountain Birds at practice in Potsdam

Coach Sandile and his son at practice in Potsdam

Coach Sandile and his son at practice in Potsdam

The Mountain Birds are currently undefeated, and prepping for a match against the second-ranked team later this month.

Mountain Birds in their O'Grady's jerseys

Mountain Birds in their O'Grady's jerseys

Craig reports that the equipment delivery resulted in a rash of “complicated handshakes and hugs”, and he writes, “Thank you again to everyone who had a stake in making this happen. The joy and appreciation witnessed by me on the many faces of this struggling township team just served as a reminder of how important the spirit of giving is…”

Since the equipment packet left Canada, I have received many inquiries about when I will start the next program. The simple answer is: I don’t know.

The Mdantsane Soccer Kit Drive program was unique in a few key ways:

1) Independence: We did this without involving bureaucratic or governing bodies. This allowed us to circumvent some barriers (postal delays, paperwork) but ultimately relied on a unique set of circumstances (i.e. that we had people travelling where we needed to go) that will likely not present themselves again. In other words, this was an extremely successful one-off.

2) Environmental impact:  From the beginning, we were committed to the idea that this program should work to redistribute existing goods. The obvious way around postal/Customs issues is to avoid shipping equipment, but by sending money to be spent in-country only one issue is addressed: that of getting the team their kits. It does not help reduce consumption; it does not redistribute existing usable goods; it does less (in my opinion) to connect communities.

3) Community: This program was a beautiful example of geographically disparate communities connecting through a shared love of soccer (football). Much has been researched and written about the unifying power of sport, and organizations like Right to Play, Girls in the Game, and the Federation of Gay Games, to name a few, promote sport within their communities (international, girls, and LGBT respectively). I wholeheartedly support these initiatives but it is gratifying to see that similar outcomes can be achieved on a more grassroots level. We succeeded here without a budget and without corporate sponsorship. And we connected two very distinct communities on a much more personal level than if it had been through a larger organization. I feel that the Mdantsane Mountain Birds are “my” team. I want them to succeed. And I hope that everyone who contributed to this effort feels the same sense of pride and connection and engagement.

If I can figure out a way to replicate the success of the Kit Drive without having to abandon these ideas, I will.


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A holiday story

Last Monday evening I packed up the Mdantsane soccer equipment into the Goodlife duffel and three string bags. Hoisting the whole lot onto my back I made my unsteady way towards the door. As I staggered past the full-length mirror, I was startled into a spit-take: Father Christmas was staring back at me.

Now, I don’t observe Christmas. By the time I hit my mid-30s I was tired of waking up on January 2nd exhausted, emotional and penniless, so a few years back I announced to my loved ones that I was no longer going to celebrate. This doesn’t mean I’m a Scrooge. It means I am free to give gifts when the spirit moves me, even if that is in May or September or July. It means I have a bit of money in my pocket. It means I spend those final weeks of every year considering what has come before and what I will accomplish next.

In 2009 I made it halfway around the world, met amazing people doing critical work in their communities, and lent a hand. I learned that getting help is often as simple as asking. I saw the generosity of strangers and friends. And when I returned home I knew myself as part of a global community – a community of do-gooders, of soccer fans, of adventurers and storytellers. My world was both bigger and smaller, and I wanted nothing more than to reach across the ocean and connect these places.

The Mdantsane Village Soccer Kit Drive was one way to accomplish this. For me, the program was about more than providing equipment, though that was the ultimate result. I wanted to leverage the unifying spirit of soccer to do good by the teams I met in Africa and my own community. We have so much in the West. It’s scandalous, really – in my soccer league each player is outfitted with their own jersey and socks each and every season. And each and every September when the sun finally goes down on the pitch, these items become useless except as mementos. It’s wasteful and it’s a shame.

This is what I was thinking as I sat at the sideline of the dusty pitch watching the Mdantsane Mountain Birds kick their opponents’ asses in borrowed cleats. If, as we know, there are seasons worth of good, unused soccer equipment growing dusty in the closets of Toronto… and if, as we know, it is expensive to send goods from here to there and improbable that they will arrive intact if at all… then we must find another way. For me, this was not about sending money – it was about connecting two communities; it was about redistributing what is already available.

Then a remarkable thing happened: Craig told me that on his holiday trip home to Philadelphia he’d bring empty suitcases so he could fill them with cleats and jerseys. Philly is a lot closer than Mdantsane Village. A single conversation cut the task down by approximately 12,800 kilometres. Now we only had to get the goods to Philadelphia. And then another remarkable thing happened: my friends Tedd and Garry offered to drive the equipment to Philly during their holiday trip to New Jersey. Suddenly all I had to do was the collection. And then the remarkable things began to tumble over other remarkable things. My request was met with such enthusiasm that I was overwhelmed by the response. Players that I only see during the summer travelled out of their way to meet me. My entire summer team agreed to donate jerseys so I could ensure the Mountain Birds would receive a full matching kit for themselves. And even now I am receiving calls asking if it’s too late and when the next Drive will happen.

So when I saw myself in the mirror with a bag of presents on my back I snapped a picture. I felt “the joy of giving”, an emotion that’s been sullied for me by years of cynical exploitation. I also felt thankful and proud and connected – and ready to begin organizing the next Kit Drive.

That evening I met up with Tedd and handed over the parcels. And this morning my phone lit up with this message: The stuff made it over the border fine. So thank you to everyone to who participated in big and little ways. I just got confirmation that the equipment is passing through Scranton en route to Mdantsane Village. See how little this big world is (and vice versa)?

Toronto to Mdantsane Village via Scranton

Toronto to Scranton. Next stop Philadelphia, then Mdantsane Village, South Africa.

Happy holidays, everybody.


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Mdantsane Village Soccer Kit Drive

December 17 Update: The collection period is now over. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the project. Once the items have been delivered I will post details including photos.

We collected:

A set of (15) matching jerseys, (4) mismatched warm-up jerseys, (4) goalie jerseys, (7) pairs of cleats, (1) pair of turf shoes, (4) sets of shin guards, (3) pairs of shorts, (8) pairs of socks... and brand spanking new gym bag.

A set of (15) matching jerseys, (4) mismatched warm-up jerseys, (4) goalie jerseys, (7) pairs of cleats, (1) pair of turf shoes, (4) sets of shin guards, (3) pairs of shorts, (8) pairs of socks... and brand spanking new gym bag.

Big thanks to:
Noelle Carbone
Craig Carty
Julie Cissel
Kate Crowley
Gillian Flower
Chadwick Gordon
Ed Hollis
Mohammed Mofrad
Michael Robinson
Bep Schippers!
Edie Walker


Garry Curnew and Tedd Konya for driving the equipment to Philly to hand off to Craig Carty


the entire 2009 O’Grady’s Irish Creamers team: Because of everyone’s willingness to get your jerseys to me, the Mdantsane Mountain Birds team will now have their own shirts.


While I was in Africa I had the great fortune to meet the Mdantsane Mountain Birds football team. I was the guest of their coach Sandile, who introduced me to the team and gave me an overview of the state of football in Mdantsane Village. Bottom line: they need equipment and kits (and for more detail read the original post here). Craig, Sandile and I had an impromptu round-table and here’s what emerged:

1) There is a great need for usable kits and equipment in Mdantsane Village. Though the players are provided jerseys and shorts, they share their kits with the under-15s. Players are required to provide their own cleats and shin guards, and at least one player had no boots of his own. He had to wait until the opening game ended to borrow cleats.
2) Craig and I were each certain that we could locate equipment through our soccer-related networks in the west.
3) Customs tariffs, delays, and the myserious disappearances of goods make shipping anything but cash inconvenient at best, and futile at worst.
4) Craig will be travelling to Philly in December and can take back as much equipment as he can carry.

Thus it was agreed that we would do an Mdantsane Village Soccer Kit Drive. Preliminary efforts have yielded a bit of space in a car travelling from Toronto to Philly in December (thanks Tedd and Garry!), and I have already received some equipment.

Most needed items include: Cleats, shin guards, socks and shorts. Jerseys also needed and welcomed but should be in sets (minimum 14).

If you need a bit of inspiration about how soccer can change the world, read here.


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Whatcha been up to?

Wow, I’ve really missed everyone in the past week or so. How are you all? How come you never call any more?

I am super stoked to have some things to report on. After my last post I got a lot of exceptionally thoughtful responses to the trip and the blog. Many of them were of the “so, when’s the book coming out?” variety which was very pleasing to my ego (and also, stop pressuring me!). I have been spending a great deal of time since then dissecting what I have published here, what I have still in the private reserves, and what it all adds up to. I’ve also been researching publishers, agents, and editors (and if anyone out there has useful input for this, please get in touch). In other words, yes, I am on it.

Most nights I’ve been up into the witching hours slogging my way through some pretty dry how-tos about writing book proposals. As well, on the authors’ advisement I’ve been reading “the competition”, an exceedingly strange exercise. I recommend that everybody take a moment to think about who, in their field, they would consider to be their own competition. I’ve decided that I am the queer, female bastard child of Bill Bryson, Pete McCarthy, and Robert Sedlack (I know, I know, you don’t know who he is – but you will!). Yes, I am totally aware that there are no women on my list but that’s because I have not yet discovered that rare female travel writer whose work is not consumed with discussing how she juggles the twin imperatives of family and adventure. I’m not saying she’s not out there but I haven’t yet met her. So let’s just say that Joan Jett and Margaret Cho were at the conception and leave it at that. Or something. Really – it’s hard not to feel like a complete lunatic egomaniac even committing this to the page but according to you all, my “willingness to expose myself as a real, flawed human being” (read: blatant disregard for my own dignity) is one of the reasons you read.

I must confess that all this being writerly has had an impact on my appearance. Like a consumptive takes to her bed, so I have taken to my sweatpants and cardigan. (I knew it was serious when I looked down and saw words on the tissue into which I’d just hawked.) The picture would be complete if I could only grow a beard! I am, however, allowing my hair to grow into  an unruly thatch that kicks out over the tops of my ears in a fetching way that proclaims (ever-so-casually), “I am an artist…”. I guess you’d call that “making ‘do”. Ha ha.

For such a fine writerly specimen, you may be saying to yourselves, you sure haven’t been doing much writing. And to that I would say this: No need to be snippy. Also, I had to “regroup”, as they say. It became obvious that when the wild Kennaway affair came to an end, so did the main storyline of this blog. Losing the backdrop of warthogs, puff adders, and the thrumming threat of violence also took some of the wind out of my story-telling sails. After all, posts entitled “Rearranged Apartment: Domesticity Edition” or “Noodle won’t stop looking at me” weren’t likely to delight the readers, eh?

Nonetheless, I do have news! I have continued to be in touch with many of the people I met in Africa, and to work on projects begun while I was there. Most pressingly, I will be collecting gently used soccer equipment over the next few weeks to get to Philly in time for Craig’s Christmas trip home. He will pack the stuff back and redistribute it there, thus bypassing the interminable Customs delays and mysterious disappearances of goods. So, would all you Toronto-based soccer-loving folks take a peek into your closets (just brush the skeletons aside) and check for extra kits and equipment? More to follow on drop-off times and locations, or you can always contact me directly to make arrangements. Non-local people wanting to contribute should also contact me directly and we’ll see what we can make happen.

I hope to hear from you all soon, whether it’s to hook me up with some gently-used jerseys or to tell me that my writing is less like Michael Palin’s and more like, well… Sarah Palin’s.

Must dash now – the kettle is whistling.


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Mdantsane soccer

This morning we are heading to Mdantsane Village, and Craig is looking forward to the drive. “It’s really interesting,” Craig tells me. “You’ll get to see so many different kinds of places on the way.”

Informal settlements are like tent cities in Canada. They are illegal, mostly… in some rare cases people own the land but aren’t able to afford a house so they build a shack there. Generally, people are squatting. The informal settlements are groups of shacks made of tin and scrap wood, and are extremely crowded. There are also RDPs (Reconstruction and Development Program areas) which are government housing. The houses here are small but have basic amenities. In some areas you will see an RDP home with one or more shacks built adjacent to it. This is where people have attached illegal structures to an RDP home or plot so they can share the toilet and running water.

But what Craig is saying to me now is something different. “That was a black township and we’re coming up to a coloured township.” Of all the things I have had to try and understand about race and class since I arrived, the black/coloured distinction is the one that has surprised me most. “Coloured” refers to mixed race people, and their communities are separate from black communities and Afrikaans communities. I find the term “coloured” to be extremely distasteful – evocative of the language of slavery – but I am also aware that I am applying Canadian sensibilities to South African history and culture. It is one of the major challenges of being here and it is so tangled that I find myself avoiding writing about it, avoiding the political landmines…

With 2 million residents, Mdantsane is the second most populous place in South Africa after Soweto. The village is divided into areas, historically called Native Units (NUs). The term NU is now considered offensive so the areas have recently been officially renamed zones, but the roadsigns still say NU (as in NU 13 or NU 6, with an arrow) and our directions are to go to NU15. We are looking for a soccer field, where we will meet Craig’s friend Sandile.

Craig’s work sometimes takes him into the township but he’s not been to NU15 and we quickly become lost. The vibe in the village is electric: crowded, loud and bright. We pull into a gas station to fill up and ask for directions. Craig has become quite skilled in isiXhosa; I am impressed. As we leave, three little girls in bare feet spot the BMW and come to the window to ask for rands. Craig hands them some change.

We drive; we get lost. Craig pulls over to ask some women selling clothes at a crossroads for direction to NU15 and they point down the road the way we came. As Craig turns the car around I notice another stall at the roadside with an open fire and dozens of goat heads in a pile.

Eventually we surrender and call Sandile who meets us on the corner and jumps into the car to direct us to our destination: the incongruously-named Winter Rose Sports Club. He instructs Craig to drive inside the gates… then onto the playing field itself where a game is in progress (Sandile claims we are being stared at because we are the only white people but I have to wonder if piloting the BMW over the corner flag might contribute), and past the goal line of the adjacent field. We park behind Sandile’s car and get out.

Sandile coaches a men’s soccer team called the Mountain Birds. Knowing that I am interested in soccer, Craig has arranged for us to attend their game. When we arrive, they are warming up. Listen up, Sweet Cleats: we’ve got a new warm-up routine.

Sandile explains that he coaches both the Mountain Birds and an under-15 team. They have one set of kits, which are shared. After todays game, the jerseys will be given to the under-15s so they can wear them for their game the following day. As well, all players are responsible for providing their own cleats. One player doesn’t have any so he is warming up in his sandals; he’ll try and borrow boots from a player in the previous game when they finish.

Sandile (bottom left) and Craig (bottom right) with the Mountain Birds.

Sandile (bottom left) and Craig (bottom right) with the Mountain Birds.

Me and Craig with a couple of the under-15s.

Me and Craig with a couple of the under-15s.

I am frustrated because I know for a fact that many of my friends have closets full of unused soccer gear that would be happily donated and put to great use here, but the logistics (cost of shipping, hold-ups at Customs, packages arriving empty) of getting it to Mdantsane are prohibitive. Craig is going to carry back equipment after his trip home in December but that is hardly a sustainable or long-term solution.

The Mountain Birds are fast and the game is aggressive and fun to watch. At the first whistle Sandile transforms, shouting and waving his hands. “I am not yelling at them,” he turns to Craig and I. “I am encouraging them to play better.” Then he faces the field and begins yelling again. “They are good, Sandile,” Craig says. “You will win the championship.” We must leave early because we are off to Addo that afternoon. We shake hands with the players on the sidelines and the under-15s and hop into the BMW.

#4 controls the ball in borrowed cleats.

#4 controls the ball in borrowed cleats.

The linesman.

The linesman.


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