Soccer and HIV-AIDS in South Africa

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

“The first trip changed my life, seeing how happy these young children were despite how little they have inspired me to be more involved.”


Mary Nagel from the Carroll Creek Rotary Club has gone twice to South Africa to visit and help out with the Hope in South Africa (HISA) project that her Rotary club is supporting. HISA is a community development partnership that aims to address critical needs in the Karoo region. Efforts focus on key areas such as nutrition, health, sanitation, and employment. The hub for the program is the Richmond Community Center, which houses a soup kitchen, a children’s library, recreational facilities, and health and education offices. From this hub, HISA’s staffs orchestrate outreach efforts to youth in the local community and neighboring areas.

While HISA runs several programs, one of their initiatives that the Rotary club of Carroll Creek helped launch in the community is Grass Roots Soccer. This is a global program that helps in fighting HIV by using soccer as a vehicle to engage children, and at the same time teach life skills and provide education on healthy behavior. Mary’s club has also supported other programs, including an initiative to deal with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a health issue that affects 15 percent of children entering elementary school in the area and may lead to permanent brain damage. Mary’s club support has been used among others to build awareness among youth about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.

Mary focuses on fundraising, but she has also visited and volunteered with the project. She has seen HISA grow and its impact on children. She believes that “just showing up is important, to see how we can make a difference”, but for this it is also necessary to “understand that Africans have their culture and that we need to respect their cultures while also providing guidance”. Her advice to fellow Rotarians interested in service work is to “choose a certain area where they have a passion, and understand the needs of the people”.

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).