Soc­cer hero ‘bossies’ over Aids project

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - JANET SMITH

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.

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