This past spring (2012), I had the chance to spend a semester in South Africa. I went with a program through the School of International Training (SIT) that focused on Multiculturalism and Human Rights. At the end of the program we had a month to design and complete our own project. This film was the result.
In doing research for my project I stumbled across the contact information for Cliffy Martinus, the director and founder of Oasis. Oasis is partnered with South African Homeless Street Soccer, which chooses a team every year to compete internationally at the Homeless World Cup. I have always been interested in sports, and the unique power they have in reaching those who participate. I contacted Cliffy about my interests, and he welcomed me to both film and engage with the work that Oasis does. Given my lack of resources and time, I only had about one and a half weeks to shoot all of my footage. It was a rushed, intense, and tiring process, but an experience I will always hold on to.
What I found when I arrived at Oasis was that their programs embodied much more than just soccer. Their mission, rather, was to use soccer as a vehicle to spread messages of character building, life skills, and future empowerment. The neighborhoods in which Oasis works are some of the poorest in South Africa. Lasting remnants of Apartheid's legacy, they are riddled with crime, drugs, and HIV/AIDS. This extreme poverty creates a self-perpetuating cycle, and it is that cycle that Oasis is looking to break. Their philosophy is easily seen in the work that they do. They believe that everyone has an entrance, no matter their past or present disadvantages. They also recognize that traditional methods of schooling aren't enough to engage the youth in these communities. To reach these youth, there needs to be activities provided that allow for a creative outlet and a forum for self-discovery. For me, in my experiences, this is what sports have provided. For some it is art, for others music, but regardless of the medium there is empowerment to be found in creative engagement. Many of the youth with which Oasis works don't attend school, but as Oasis brings their programs into the curriculum, attendance rates begin to rise. It is something that educators (or at least the bureaucrats who run education) seem to easily forget: that learning is a process that can be found in countless forms, and that by encouraging creativity, camaraderie, and a hands on approach, you can reach people in a unique and positive way.
Although there is much more I wish I could have captured, what stuck with me most about my time with Oasis was hearing the stories of lives that were so different from my own. Stories of people who have experienced more hardship in a year than I've endured in a lifetime, yet have shown the profound resiliency of the human spirit, and tapped the capacity we all hold for hope. Ultimately that is what this film is about: the stories that define who these young men are and where they are going. The film cannot fully portray the magnitude of their accomplishments, but it is a snapshot into their lives, and a reminder that happiness and value can be derived from within.
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