Can a game of squash break the cycle of poverty?
Squash is uncommon in the townships. But for a group of kids in Gauteng, the sport is providing a way to blow off steam and creating a distraction from their daily challenges. Sharon Sibanda is ensuring that this isn’t just a temporary escape, but a way out for good. During the week, she can be found on various courts throughout the city, while on weekends she’s accompanying kids to tournaments.
As a coach, coordinator, and chief of operations for the Egoli Squash programme, Sibanda provides opportunities for children in Soweto, Alexandra, and the inner city of Johannesburg to get involved in sport. But her background in Psychology – in which she has an Honours degree along with a post-graduate certificate in Community Project Planning – has helped her do much more. Sibanda has seen the difference that adding life skills training and HIV/AIDS prevention courses to the sports programme has made to the children. “When they come to the squash courts, they know that they’ve got a safe space and environment to participate in and thrive,” she says. The programme has developed players that have represented South Africa at the All Africa championships, while also producing players ranked in the country’s top ten. “With each swing, I can see things changing for the youth,” Sibanda says.
Many of the players’ experiences of poverty and family problems hamper their learning. The ensuing lack of literacy and education prevents the kids from getting decent jobs later in life, effectively trapping them in a cycle of poverty. The Egoli Squash Programme provides homework support for the players to ensure they also maintain academic success. With a particular focus on numeracy and literacy skills, the programme has helped over 5 000 learners between the ages of eight and 18. “These children are like my children and I want to be with them every step of their lives,” Sibanda says. Lovingly referred to as ‘Ma Egoli Squash’, this coach is rearing a generation of leaders and achievers starting with just a racket and a deep-set desire to make a difference.