Soccer hero ‘bossies’ over Aids project
IT’S A roasting hot October day in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, and Bafana legend Mark Fish stands in the middle of a dustbowl community soccer pitch, safari hat on his head, whistle around his neck.
Fish is the referee of a group of games between three of the & Beyond Safari lodges in the area, Kirkman’s Kamp, where this soccer field is situated, Exeter Lodges and Ngala Private Game Reserve, as well as a team from the local community.
Around the field, people come to support, including a motormouth commentator, and a band of singing, ululating women. One wonders what the lions, leopards, and the rest of the glorious wildlife, so famous in these surroundings, would make of it all.
Most people (probably even animals!) would hardly take a light stroll in this heat, but for the men around here, this day is the highlight of the year so far – a chance to play the beautiful game and be refereed by one of their heroes.
The brainchild behind all this is & Beyond’s “Goal is Life” programme, which is in turn part of a positive health programme set up by & Beyond to engage their staff and local communities in living a healthier lifestyle, and teaching them about diseases like HIV/Aids, malaria and stomach infections.
“The most important thing we try to say is that your goal is life, to look after your body. Healthy body, healthy mind, healthy mind, healthy body,” says Fish.
“It is important we get them to start looking after themselves, looking at a long term future, eating the right things, drinking the right things, respecting your body.
“I have seen the progress… when you tell these game rangers and chefs to be the best they can, they thrive on it. Even on the field the teams have improved.”
Concerned about increased absenteeism and the prevalence of HIV/Aids in their communities, & Beyond, which runs 46 lodges across southern and East Africa and more recently India, has helped its staff by educating them on how to help their immune systems, for example by encouraging lodges to grow vegetable gardens, or by selling them products like E-Pap, a type of traditional pap fortified with minerals and vitamins.
They also give them intensive lessons on HIV/Aids, about how the disease itself works, about anti-retrovirals, about, in fact, just about everything you could think of.
This is a holistic programme – “It’s so important that you work with the body, mind and soul, or it can’t work,” says & Beyond’s positive health director Elsje van Wyk.
The core focus of & Beyond is “care of the land, care of the wildlife, and care of the people”.
If you put your heart and soul into looking after these three elements, they believe, your business can only succeed. Each participant in the “Goal is Life” programme gets a T-Shirt, with a “Positive Health” man on it, and the message “I am Important”.
“If you want to think someone else is important, you need to start with yourself,” says Van Wyk.
& Beyond has also given each of its teams their own match kit. “They take huge pride in their uniform,” says Van Wyk.
“Kids from the communities will come and play without kit, but once they see our staff in their kit, the next time they come, they will all have kit. If you start with pride somewhere, it ripples through.”
A huge amount of effort and expense is put into giving training to chefs, game rangers and lodge managers, just for example, with most of & Beyond’s staff coming without much or any experience from the local communities.
With the “Positive Health” programme, staff are then encouraged to go back and teach in the communities, meaning the message gets spread far and wide.
By promoting good health and creating excitement with projects like “Goal is Life”, & Beyond has had fantastic results.
Heavily involved in the project is Aids activist David Patient, one of the longest known survivors in the world with HIV/Aids.
He runs projects like this across Africa, is effusive in his praise of & Beyond and says he feels like a part of the family.
“We were working on a programme called “Vida Positiva” for the Mozambican government and Carte Blanche did a special on it,” he says.
“& Beyond came to us and said we need to do something for our company, we are losing our intellectual capital and our guides and staff are starting to die.
“We said, ‘This is what we are doing in Mozambique’, thinking they were just like a whole other bunch of corporates and paying lip service. And that started a seven-year love affair with this company. They are absolutely awesome, they have delivered on everything they said they would deliver on.
“Wellness is not just about having a clinic available, it is empowering people through skills transfer and knowledge,” says Patient. “When they have that knowledge they can then make different choices.”
Patient works within rather than around the sexual cultural challenges that he is faced with. For example, he says it is ridiculous to try and apply traditional Western philosophies to certain African cultures.
“We need to come up with strategies that are relevant to the current realities… most of the relationships people are involved in are not because they are a bunch of sex-crazed maniacs, which is what the world seems to think. It is about economics, it is about stability. It’s about things a Westerner doesn’t have to think about.”
CHEF IN MOTION: A lodge employee shows his soccer skills.
VICTORY: The winning captain receives a trophy from his hero Mark Fish.