This is discussion about Hope for Change through soccer in South African prisons.
Hi, impressive proposal and video. I like how the sports piece is integrated into caring for the whole person including afterwards when they are released into the community. I was wondering though as a faith based initiative - "bringing the gospel through football" - what you see as the strengths and weaknesses of being faith based. It obviously makes many things possible like working with the churches afterwards , but do you have the experience that it makes other things more difficult or impossible - like working with Moslem inmates or others? Do you find that most of your athletes want a faith message or do they just accept it in exchange for being able to do a sport they love? Do people stay religious once they leave your programme?
I am always curious about faith based delivery of social projects - I would be very interested to hear what you see as strengths and weaknesses.
Thanks for your informative entry.
Many thanks for your comment... it is obviously an issue we face on a daily basis. My first response is that our faith is our motivation for what we do. We try not to force our faith upon anybody, but also do not seek to hide it.
It would certainly be a weakness of being faith based if being a Christian was a prerequisite of joining the Hope Academy - or any of our other soccer programmes (in and out of prison). However, although we do seek to deal with all those in our programmes in a holistic manner (here meaning body, mind, spirit, emotions), the content of our curriculum allows for interaction, discussion and personal application, rather than us in any way seeking to indoctrinate people. We find that if we seek to force people into statements of faith, then there is no chance they will continue in that faith beyond their time in our programme. Our experience has shown us that some do continue in their faith after they leave prison and have actively got involved in a church, while others have not. And sometimes we are surprised in that those who we thought would not remain "religious" do so, and others that appeared to take their faith seriously while in the programme, soon turn away once they have moved on.
I think a strength of being faith based is that other faiths actually respect us for our stance and relate well to us, even if they disagree with our beliefs. We have found that many Muslim parents would like their children in our soccer programmes (talking here of our other soccer outreach programmes rather than the prison work) because they understand that we have a strong value and belief system, rather than be in a club where the coaches and staff do not have such a foundation.
One weakness with being faith based is that many donors do not want to give to "religious" organisations. I feel that this is unfair and that all organisations should be allowed a level playing field because all organisations have world views that shape their practise... even if it not specifically religion. Rather the integrity, practices and outcomes should be what is evaluated as there are many NGO's, Christian and otherwise, who are doing fantastic community work but are struggling in the area of resource.
Ambassadors in Sport
Pretoria, South Africa.
Have you read the project entry from Ghana dealing with incarcerated youth? It is also posted on the competition - you should check it out and see if there is anything you can contribute/ learn from each others' experience working with similar target audiences.
I would also be interested in understand more about how your innovation works with beneficiaries from other religions - what opportunities are they offered or excluded from?
I really like the replicability of your model and would be curious to know what you see as the biggest challenges in terms of replication and how would you address the issue of maintaining the standards of your model while being flexible enough to address local issues?
Thanks so much,
The work in Ghana sounds fantastic. Please see my comment above to the other gentlman from Ghana. It would be great to continue to communicate and learn from each other.
Thank you for sharing this most interesting program with us. I think that the prison system is too often overlooked as a place in much need of reform - but reform that is entirely possible if approached the right way. And this model that you have in South Africa certainly is replicable all over the world. I have done a fair amount of work with US prison reform and it still fascinates me that more is not done to rehabilitate prisoners during their time served. What strikes me as an essential component to this framework is its relationship to human rights. One thing some might not think about is that, if not in a program such as yours, these youth would be left with no outlet for appropriate physical activity. Not only does this program provide them with that basic human right to sport, though, as it uses sport as a tool to teach the vital life lessons that they must learn in order to reenter society rehabilitated.
I also agree that one of the most impressive aspects of the program is that you also provide support for these youth once they have left the prison system. Although their lives may have been changed while in the program, if they are not given sufficient support once "on their own," regardless of their personal transformation, they are too likely to fall into the stereotype of ex-convict, unable to get a job, unsupported and then return to former behaviors. That you set them up to continue their contribution to society is very well constructed.
My one question is, how do you select candidates for the program? You noted that you chose individuals that already had some soccer skills, but what about those that don't, but still have a RIGHT to participate in sport and a right to reap the benefits of your life skills programming.
I noticed that you said the participants teach their inmates about what they have learned - what exactly do they teach them? I see the opportunity for two kinds of leadership: soccer skills coaching to less skilled players and life skills (training them as trainers once they go through the program). And these two areas can really be covered by making them leaders in the very same program. I would also suggest, if you do not already do so, to create a similar program outside of the prisons, which those who have gone through it on the inside can implement in the community. That might solve the issue of partnering solely with faith based organizations.
Finally, in terms of funding a sustainable business model: do you charge the prison system at all or require them to provide funding? It seems you are saving them a lot of money in the long run by ensuring that these prisoners do not return as inmates who again have to be sustained while in jail and that is ideal leverage for getting the government to fund it.
Once again, great model, thanks for sharing!
Thanks for your comments on the program and good questions! The academy program in the prison is a specialist program that Ambassadors In Sport offers for prisoners. AIS have a number of other soccer models that can run in prisons such as week long soccer clincs, tournaments & coaching teams that can include any willing party. The academy program does target prisoners who are talented in soccer but also has other criteria, no gang activity is allowed, no smoking, no tattoing (prisoners tattoo their bodies to mark the gang they are in), no fighting etc. The prisoners are given the option to join the academy if they will leave these negative behaviours behind. This does normally determine if the prisoner is serious about changing his life and willing to take the opportunity with both hands. For example if a prisoner has amazing ability in soccer he would be required to meet this criteria - if he is unwilling we would take a prisoner with less ability but who has the desire to use the opportunity to change his life. We have had boys in the program who are not fantastic players but offer a lot to the academy in other ways and motivate the other players to succeed.
To answer your second question - we have trained prisoners how to run soccer programmes and in the one prison we had two prisoners who would lead life skills, bible studies and training to other prisoners when we were not present. We also have prisoners who can come onto our internship training program which will equip them to run soccer events and life skills within their communities. Our aim is also to have ex-prison academy players running the prison academies in the future.
Lastly we do not recieve funding from the goverment for this program. We have briefly looked into this but so far have not been successful - therefore all funding comes from individual donors or from other organisations.
Hope this is helpful!
I agree, Timothy, with the tenor of the previous comments that prisons are certainly one environment where the presence of sports as a vehicle for rehabilitation is most needed. Whether it be motivated by religious principles or a strictly secular analysis, your decision to take soccer through the academies into Pollsmoor and Leeuwkop prisons is well-founded.
Have prison administrators and local government authorities generally been supportive of your efforts? Indifferent? Resistant? I was wondering if, over time, you might be able to demonstrate that recividism declines in the presence of your programs and thereby be able to negotiate the release of official monies to subsidize your efforts. Admittedly, government funds are not easy to secure, and even when one can, they may come attached to consequences which you'd prefer to avoid. Still, official resources would reduce the extent to which you have to secure private donations and extend the reach of those sponsorships which you do have.
Thanks for your comment Steve.
We have had a mixed experience of working with the prison authorities... but as we have shown our commitment over time, then our relationship has certainly improved. There are so many NGO's wanting to work in prisons, but it is not a "fly by night" work, and it takes time to build trust between NGO's and the prison authorities.
With regarding to access of funds, as yet we have not yet really broached this subject... but certainly it would help us! We are just beginning to develop the work in a new prison which is classed as a "Centre of Excellence" within the South African prison system and therefore we may well be able to pursue some financial assistance through the government structures. But, for sustainabilities sake, we will always be seeking to raise our own independent funds as well.
Your programme is interesting and similar to what we do in Ghana. I would apprecicate if we could work together to benefit from your rich experience in South Africa and exchange ideas. We are currently working in 3 adults, one juvenal prison(s) and 15 non prison communities.
Hope to hear from while thanking for all what you do
It's great to hear from you. I am hoping to be in Ghana for the Africa Cup of nations and perhaps there will be an opportuntiy for me to come and visit your programmes. Please feel free to Email me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org I'm sure there is much we can learn from one another.
Hi Tim, it is true that many organizations shun away from faith based groups, for reasons I do not always understand. Everyone believes in something, and that belief, whether its spoken or practiced openly or not, is what causes them to do what they do. Respect talks to everybody, no matter what you believe, and it is something that is very important in relating to the different folks around the world. DisRespect tends to Dis, and cause people to miss out on getting to know others.
I did not think of these young men as prisoners in this video. If it had not been for the bars, I would have seen them as members of a disciplined football academy, who believed in the gospel, - good news, that's what gospel means, and that's what these young men projected. Even with the bars, the spirit of belief in that they were accomplishing something, came across very well.
I would like to collaborate with you in Future Stars, in the future. We are looking to make a series of teaching videos based around soccer, that would teach about character, and other social development skills that many of these guys are yet perfecting in the environment that you are providing for them. We also want to deal with other topics that young and old soccer players, coaches, and fans face in the practicing and competitive moments of the game, and things that they have to deal with in every day life, like RESPECT, AIDs, trust, honesty, study is fun, etc. I work with the team Future Stars, in the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp. They are about the ages of the young men in your video. We want to use the youth to help to get the message about how youth in sports is a positive opportunity and impacts many ages, worldwide. Soccer lovers would naturally be drawn to these kinds of messages, because they've been in the T-E-A-M environment that soccer encourages. Your video did help me to see the kind of impact that this could make on me, and other individuals.
Hi Lady a,
Thanks for the encouragement about the work we are doing. We are always keen to work alongside people who are like minded and want to see these young lives impacted and changed. Let us know how we could use or get some of the teaching videos as we are currently developing a curriculum that will be used in the prison academy setup. I am glad you agree it is not enough to offer just soccer without looking to develop the whole person and the young men we work with need so much more than just good coaching.
Keep in touch and look forward to hearing from you.
Changemakers Featured Commentator
Sport for a Better World Competition
There is a rich history of soccer in South African prisons. When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned at Robben Island, soccer became like a religion to the inmates – to the point where the guards would no longer allow Mandela to attend the matches. Talk about the power of sport! Tapping into this history is one of your program’s strengths.
How do you identify the young people who participate in the soccer academy? Is there an opportunity for the boys who may not be skilled as players but who love the game? Could they participate in other capacities so that your program is as inclusive as possible?
Perhaps you could partner with the South African Football Association to provide skill sessions and other training to raise the level of expertise for your participants. Professional training like that would add to the boys’ belief in themselves and sense of self-worth.
I think this is a really great idea and I commend you for your work!
Thanks for the email and we agree! Soccer does bring hope to the prisons and the Makana FA league helped many prisoners get through years of imprisonment. I have also heard that they have brought out a new film called "More Than Just a Game" which shows this league and the hope it brought to so many.
The idea of the Hope Academy program is to give boys who have soccer talent and a willingness to change an opportunity to grow and develop within the prison system. We do have a certain criteria in which to pick boys from the prison(s) but it is not neccesarily just about their talent. Many of the juvenile prisoners are caught up in gangsterism, drugs and violence but the program only selects prisoners who are willing to obey the academy rules and who are willing to give these things up to work towards a better future.
AIS also offers coaching in the form of soccer clinics and teams include a greater amount of prisoners but the Hope Academy program is more structured and designed specifically for those prisoners who meet all the criteria. We are also limited to sentence and age as many of the prisoners are classed as "high risk" and cannot be taken to the field.
The academy program also encourages the academy team to give back to other prisoners and also influence them positively. We believe the prisoners need to start their development in the prison whereas so many say they will change once they are released. The challenge is for them to start now!
We would love to partner with SAFA and this is something we would defintley look into.
I just wanted to express my deep admiration for your project. In the past year I have done a lot of research on projects that use football as a tool for community service etc. in Africa but this is the first time I encounter a project that targets juveniles- and I have to admit that football is probably one of the best ways to reach this group especially youths and young adults. I did volunteer work in India, Egypt and South Africa and I always realized that one of the absolutly biggest problems that the young people I worked with had, is that they grow up without role models, family bonds or some kind of community feeling. I guess by providing the youths with a "team family" you give them the chance to feel connected to others. Another point that I think is great is that you help the youths after they leave prison. After reading your last comment I was wondering if there are players with different faiths than christian how do they fit into the group? are they completly integrated and do they take part in for example the bible studies? did you think about may be having someone who got reintegrated into society after taking part of your project come into prison to act as a tutor or peer model?
Spirit of Football Project Group
University of Erfurt
Thanks for the comment and for the encouragement.
It seems like you have a lot of expierence in working with youth around the world so we value your input and suggestions. We do not discriminate against any religon joining the academy or being involved in other soccer events we run in prisons. However we do let them know prior to joining, that the program is run on Christian principles and the boys are taught biblical values. We do not force the boys to take part in the biblical studies that the team voluntarily form in the cell but when we coach and teach life skills and biblical values in the program each boy is expected to take part. It was interesting that you mentioned about having peer role models that have come through the program going back into the prison. We do believe and hope that boys that come through this program will one day run academies in other prisons and get involved in the project. At the moment we have two boys who came through the program in Pollsmoor Prison, Cape Town and will be sponsored on our internship program next year. They will be trained in all areas of sports ministry and taught how to coach, deliver life skills and interact with youth. It is possible and we do hope that both these boys are employed through the Hope Academy program and work with AIS in prisons in the future - that would be great!!
I HAVE LIKE THE VISION OF HOPE FOR CHANGE.WE NEED SUCH ORGANIZATION IN AFRICA,TO GIVE HOPE TO THE YOUTH THROUGH SOCCER.THIS IS A SPORT THAT IS VERY POPULAR AROUND THE WORLD. I GIVE THIS ORGANIZATION MY VOTE
Great program - keep up the good work!
Great to see AIS as a finalist in the competition. I hope you get some of the recognition you deserve for the fantastic job which you and the team do.
We run a soccer program in Lwandle and have benefitted by attending one of your coach training sessions.
Keep up the good work.
Just a word to say that this is so awesome. Hiving hope to the hopeless, preparing valuable young lives for re-integration into society after their release is so EMPOWERING! Wish there were more of this taking place elsewhere. To you and the TEAM, well done and keep the faith.
Thank you for participating in this collaborative competition. We value the time and effort you’ve put forth and we would like to offer you feedback and some thought provoking questions from our Evaluation Team.
The program is the only one of its kind to target youth offenders in Cape Town by providing a variety of life skills training. Its focus on reducing repeat offense by linking youth with community-based organizations while attempting to learn from the experiences of related initiatives is especially innovative. The program’s impact has grown substantially over the last three years, and its model is potentially replicable in other areas. However, a reliance on overseas funding raises questions of financial sustainability in the long-term.
Please use this input as both potential insights into your innovations, as well as constructive ideas for how to improve or grow your organization.
The Changemakers Team