Dockers in Africa

This is a great story…..Well done Dockers.

THE street kids of the Thakeneng Project in South Africa have no idea who the big men in the purple shirts are, but they smile when the strangers enter their world and keep smiling for the hour they spend with them.

Their lives, being rebuilt by some amazing carers, have been horrific.

But on this day, though, there is only happiness. There are footballs to kick and they get to keep the balls and a purple cap.

It’s a small gesture from the Fremantle Football Club and those who know these kids best, such as the project’s manager Corrie Engelbrecht, are adamant this day will be recorded by the kids as a life highlight.

When it’s time for the Freo players to leave, the kids burst into beautiful song.

Docker Paul Hasleby joins them in their dancing, his teammates mesmerised by the power of their sound and actions. The kids finish that tune and begin another.

They know there is no way the big guys will leave if they keep singing.

Des Headland, an indigenous Australian, says he can relate to South Africa: “It is what they are brought up with and they accept things; they deal with what they’ve got and the life they have, yet they have a passion for that life.

“Look at some of the kids we’ve seen today. You can’t believe what they’ve been through in their lives and they’ve all got happy faces and are running around smiling.”

But, eventually, their music is stopped by a carer, and final goodbyes, hugs, handshakes and high-fives are made.

The kids are disappointed but have been told they will be driven by bus to watch the big guys play “foo-ty” against some other big guys in navy blue on Saturday, so there’s something else beyond this day to look forward to.

“And that doesn’t happen a lot,” said Engelbrecht. “All we want to do is make a difference to a child’s life, and when that happens we are so grateful to see that joy and as you can see, there is joy here today . . . and that makes us happy because they are happy.”

The Dockers travelled from the street kids project to the Potchefstroom Prison.

There, on the jail’s sports field, they kick footies and exchange stories with a dozen or so prisoners serving life sentences. They walked through the women’s ward where some were left heartbroken at the sight of some inmates tending to babies.

“I can’t believe how happy they look,” observed Docker Byron Schammer. No one else could, either.

If one ever stops to analyse the sights on offer in most parts of South Africa, it makes for dreadful, teary, doomed analysis.

But the people one is watching just keep moving, with a smile or at least a buoyancy in their step.
There are the kids who are having the times of their lives rolling a tyre down a busy street and the old guys sitting outside their unpowered, near-derelict cottages without running water, but who have enough pride to manicure their small lawns and keep their windows spotless.

Headland’s teammate Jeff Farmer said it was always best to look at life positively.

“You try not to harp on that (the helplessness) too much, you try to bring a little bit of joy and a little bit of happiness for these kids,” Farmer said.

“We are only here for 10 days, but you can already tell that that’s enough time to maybe make a difference, maybe change a kid’s life in terms of bringing a bit of joy.” After the prison visit, the Fremantle players have a quick lunch before heading back out into the community for an AFL FootyWild clinic on an oval within a township on the fringes of Potchefstroom.

More than 500 kids were waiting. Which meant 500 wide smiles when they lobbed, and 500 wide smiles for the next 90 minutes as the players, with the help of many local volunteers, conducted footy drills.

The volunteers all smiled for 90 minutes, too, none with a happier face than Tebogo Raditsabena, who has been helping coach locals the art of Australian football for the past four months.

Raditsabena has no legs. Puma shoes, worn backwards, protect the ends of what was left of those legs after he lost them when severely burnt as a child.

When some of the big guys in purple come to say hello, he is probably the happiest bloke in the world.

On this video Farmer says he is sorry for his off field indescretions, and wants to make ammends this year. well done Jeff, looking forward to your magic this season.

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