Editor's Note: After yesterday's visit to the Football For Hope Center, Robbie Rogers shared his thoughts on the experience.
My first trip to South Africa has started off in a very special way, and one that I didn’t really expect. We kicked off our first full day together at The Football For Hope Center in Khayelitsha. Teaming up with Grassroots Soccer, we were able meet some of the special locals that makes South Africa so unique. I can honestly say I was blown away by the men and women, and even more by the children! These kids obviously struggle with many different obstacles in their lives, and you can see how important soccer is as a way of giving them a chance to dream and do something positive with their time.
As we learned, Khayelitsha is the first place in Africa to be a recipient of a Football For Hope Center. Thanks to Grassroots Soccer and other funders, Khayelitsha gives men, women, and children the opportunity to play in an organized soccer league while receiving an HIV awareness education. As South Africa has the highest number of people infected globally, estimated at around 5.7 million, centers such as these are much needed!
In charge of our visit was Kirk Friedrich and a Cape town native, GC, more commonly known as "Lucky". Lucky and Kirk walked us through the facility, went over the logistics of the program, and even put us through a few soccer exercises with the kids. Kirk and his group of "coaches" have found the right balance of allowing the locals to enjoy the game of soccer while also advising them on the horrific realities of HIV. This center has a turf-enclosed soccer field, a number of classrooms for students, and even a testing center for HIV. In an area where nearly 30% of the population is HIV positive, places like this are critical to any effort to stem the tide of the disease.
My overall experience at The Football For Hope Center was amazing. Sometimes as a professional athlete you become consumed with your sport, but visits such as these open your eyes to the difficult problems people face around the world every day and the simple ways that you can try to make a difference. I am very grateful to Grassroots Soccer for the opportunity to visit their facility, and I encourage everyone to check out their website. It’s a day I won’t forget.