United through Sport is a non-profit organisation that focuses on the development of sport in disadvantaged communities on an international scale. They aim make a significant difference to the educational, sporting and day to day life of children of all ages. Chobham player, Harry Strudwick, made the journey to South Africa earlier this year to experience the volunteering and coaching aspects of the programme and to impart his love of rugby onto the younger community. Here Harry shares his experience with us:
The placement involves volunteers coaching their chosen sports at a mixture of 15 primary and junior schools in the townships surrounding Port Elizabeth. A typical week consists of 3, hour and a half sessions at 3 different schools for 5 days with the weekends free for the volunteers to plan future sessions and for excursions to take place such as trips to the seafront flea market. All the schools were more than welcoming and pleased that we could have an impact on their children. Without fail, there would always be a welcoming party of children at each school, eager to get involved in the sessions. The kids themselves varied from those who felt like they had to be there and would often misbehave to those who wanted to develop their rugby skills and would go to any means to come to every single session. A special shout out is needed here to my protégés Keenan Jafta and Abtoid Cdha who without a doubt are future Springbok players and also to my band of grade 5 boys, Sima, Arishad, Luciano, JK, Sherman, Jay-Dee and Kyle, who skipped class on the last day to get some signatures and say goodbye.
Chobham RFC kindly donated a set of shirts for me to take and distribute amongst the children. The children that received the shirts are those that impressed, not necessarily with their sporting ability but with their attitude to learning. The emotions between the child and myself when handing over a shirt is a difficult one to describe. Saleesi, also known as mini Nonu, was a grade 6 kid that earned a Chobham shirt. When told on the last day I had a present for him he was so excited but when produced with the shirt, he looked at me, shock written all over his face. To further it, when told it was from the club back home, he hugged me, said thank you and then cried. It’s amazing how a little thing like a shoulder ride or a playing shirt can make a difference to these children’s lives.
Whilst on my travels, I got to experience some of the great wonders of South Africa; diving with the great white sharks at Mosselbaai, a new perspective on gravity whilst jumping off the highest bridge bungee jump in the world at Bloukrans Bridge and a sensational elephant ride at the elephant sanctuary in Pletenbergbaai. Not to mention various safaris; a highlight being Seaview Lion Park and getting to meet Blaze, the baby puma.
If reading this and you feel inspired to do a volunteer placement, I cannot encourage enough to do it. United through Sport is a fantastic organisation that are highly accommodating and have placements all over the world. I highly recommend them and I know that I will definitely be returning to South Africa in whatever role I can and hope to add to the memories I’ve already got. A special thanks goes to Mike Vandenberg for arranging the donation of the shirts and to Chobham RFC who have just extended their already huge family. #oneclub