Sadick Da Silva has been working with youth in communities in the Cape Flats for over thirty years. His organisation Arise Community Development Projects offers sports programmes to youth that incorporate life skills trainings to strengthen youth resilience to the many risk factors they face – and help them grow up to their full potential.
In this interview, Sadick speaks about how sports programmes can help strengthen youth and uplift their communities, the challenges NGOs face in their work and why we need to start pointing fingers at ourselves.
Interview by Daniel Brumund
Sadick, you have been working with youth in the Cape Flats for over thirty years. What inspired you to work with youth? What is your relationship to that area?
After that we started a youth club amongst friends in the area and I became involved in a local football club at the age of 17. From there on, I grew up as a soccer player, underwent training to become a coach and started my first coaching clinic.
This whole experience made me realise that there is a big need within our communities for children and youth at risk to have access to sports programmes.
So this experience then led you to start Cape Flats Soccer Development (CFSD) in 2003. What is the aim of the programme?
Cape Flats Soccer Development we aim to get kids involved in physical activities. Our communities lack formal recreational structures. As a result, there are lots of kids are loitering around. We are creating spaces for these kids to become active – and to give them an alternative to substance abuse or other illegal activities they were getting involved in.
This is why CFSD focuses on working with kids at risk. I used to call them the forgotten kids. Many of them have been expelled from school and don't have parents or relatives that look after them. There is no one who really cares about them. Formal sport clubs won't allow them in because of their background. Or there are subscription fees that they cannot afford. Therefore these kids find that they have nowhere to go other than standing at the corner, smoking drugs or joining gangs.
We need to ask ourselves, how do we get these kids back into the mainstream? With CFSD we try to provide them with structure and life skills training, and support them to go back to school, or to help them find a job. So it is really as much about helping them achieve their personal goals as well as their sporting goals.
Today, CFSD is incorporated as a programme within Arise Community Development Projects which we established in 2007.
CFSD aims to create a social, drug free environment – and to empower youth to support the uplifting of the communities in which they live. How can sport trainings contribute to this?
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These trainings changed my whole concept at the time. It helped me understand that through life skills trainings we can have a huge positive impact on a kid's life. We quickly realised that development is not just a once-off event, it is an on-going process.
When we started working with youth in the Delft township, a young girl joined our trainings. She had left school and was prostituting on the road. Our programme and the life skills training she participated in helped her change her life around. She went back to school and today she is married and has a kid. That's the type of change you want to see.
Our work in Laingsburg, a rural village in the Karoo, shows how these programmes can positively affect an entire community. Within six months, we established five structured soccer clubs that now provide sports and life skills trainings to youth in the area. At the same time, we helped unemployed locals establish a small business cooperative that focuses on sowing and clothing. Among other things, they now manufacture the outfits for the soccer teams – locally produced and at a much more reasonable cost.
You mentioned the high levels of gang violence in the communities you work in. How does this affect your work? And how does it affect the youth you work with?
That is why prevention is so much more important than intervention. Preventing youth from joining gangs in the first place is the key to success. But you have to start working with the kids from an early age. Gangs increasingly recruit kids as young as ten to twelve years old because they cannot be jailed when committing crimes.
Kids and teenagers need to become resilient to these negative influences. If you support and strengthen them, you increase the chance that they won't be involved with gangs. For many of them, a major challenge is to find employment. If they are idly hanging out in the street, they are very vulnerable to gangs and drugs.
It is important that we support our youngsters to make informed decisions about how they lead their lives. They have to know about the consequences of their actions.
As an NGO, what are some of the main challenges you face in your work?
Our major problem is a lack of funding. Governmental funds for sports programmes are made available almost exclusively for federations. These federations hardly recognise the work of NGOs which makes it difficult for us to get access to these funds. Plus we are lacking facilities that we can use.
It comes down to this question: What roles do we as NGOs play in the structure? And how is this role understood by governmental departments? Take Manenberg, for example, which is characterised by high rates of gangsterism, crime and drug abuse. Government calls upon NGOs to assist in coming up with solutions. But when we provide our proposals together with a cost plan for implementing them, the departments are not forthcoming.
As local NGOs, we often feel as if we are seen as beggars when we ask for funds and resources to do our work. There is a lack of understanding and appreciation from government of what we do – and that we need resources to do it.
Looking to the future, what is your wish for the youth you work with?
You know, unless all relevant stakeholders – government, police, NGOs – come on board, we will continue losing our kids at a fast pace to drugs and gangsterism. That is why Arise has been strengthening its relationship with SAPS as well as other with sports-related programmes, most recently Play Handball SA. So I am optimistic about the future of our work.
During our trainings, I always tell the youth we work with is that they need to have faith and belief. If you are a kid at risk or suffer from substance abuse, you first need to accept that you have a problem. No rehabilitation is possible without belief – irrespective of the religion you follow. You need to have a goal that you dream of – and then you have to go for it.
My message is this: If you truly believe, you can make a change. As a first step, start helping your neighbours. If everybody looks after somebody in their community, we would have much less violence and crime.
Youngsters need to ask themselves: What am I doing to change my community? Not what is the government or someone else doing. You know, we have a tendency to point fingers at the shortcomings of our governmental structures. But we need to start pointing the fingers at ourselves. We need more youngsters to get out of their comfort zones and become active agents of change. All too often people only wake up and become active when something bad happens to their own families. But the wake-up call needs to be now – so you can prevent something bad from happening in the first place.