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Cultivating Hope and Empowerment through Sport in Kwelehra

Written by Anelitha Tukela


This blog post explores the multi-layered impact of sports activities in rural communities, focusing on their role in fostering hope and empowerment among residents. This blog also shares the obstacles encountered in leveraging sports for positive social change in the community of Kwelerha such as limited resources, including infrastructure, funding, and access to equipment, which pose significant barriers to sports participation. In the community of Kwelerha, sports activities have a great impact on people's lives as it is a coping mechanism for others and hope for better opportunities for others.


Kwelerha is an area often filled with uncertainty and challenges. Here, the realm of sports emerges as a beacon of hope and empowerment for individuals seeking support. Young people from the village are very involved in sports activities; they have sports such as ladies and men's rugby, boxing and netball. The coaches of these sports teams share that they created these sports teams to keep children out of drugs and alcohol, and have created teams for all age groups. In the Eastern Cape province, most rural communities face challenges rooted in socioeconomic changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges include health issues, low education, limited infrastructure and low funding; all of which hinder access to sports programs. However, despite these challenges in Kwelerha, they have managed to create these sports activities to offer a myriad of benefits and tools for self-improvement. Beyond the mere physicality of sports activities lies a profound journey of self-discovery, resilience and growth. The transformative potential is entrenched within sports activities, where participants not only find an outlet for their physical energies but also uncover avenues for personal empowerment and a renewed sense of hope.


Figure 1: Boxing tournament held in Kwelerha primary school in Tuba Village. (Taken by Anelitha Tukela)


Every Sunday, one of the villages in Kwelerha that has sports grounds would host friendly matches among themselves or other surrounding areas such as Mooiplas and Gonubie. One of the rugby coaches stated that they participate in these friendly matches because they are preparing for the Easter Tournament – a huge rugby tournament that happens every Easter weekend. The Easter Tournament usually has sponsorship from the Buffalo City Municipality and other local institutions, which allows talented players to get recognized and recruited by larger teams. These sports activities bring hope and empowerment to a lot of young people, they can boost one’s self-esteem and confidence, and empower individuals to overcome challenges both on and off the field. For individuals in rural communities facing economic hardship or systemic inequalities, excelling in sports can provide a pathway to a better future. Moreover, sports offer opportunities for leadership roles, giving individuals a platform to amplify their voices and effect change within their communities.


Most unemployed people have decided to join certain sports activities in the community to keep themselves busy rather than relying on alcohol – sports activities are one of the positive coping mechanisms for people struggling with addiction. The sports activities in the community also help children to stay away from drugs and alcohol, as they find a purpose in playing sports. The sports activities in the community have a great impact on children’s lives as they are able to dream of and work towards becoming a professional athlete. Organized sports programs can also serve as a protective factor against risky behaviors such as substance abuse and crime. The sports activities in Kwelerha have worked to benefit both the young and the old by reducing addiction and unemployment.


Moreover, sports have the power to challenge gender stereotypes and promote gender equality – particularly in rural communities where traditional gender roles may be deeply rooted. In Kwelerha, there are equal opportunities for girls and boys to participate in sports, which allows communities to break down barriers to women's empowerment and foster inclusive environments that value diversity and respect. Sports offer valuable opportunities for youth development in the community of Kwelerha, teaching important life skills such as teamwork, leadership, discipline and resilience. In the community of Kwelerha, where the youth are facing limited educational and employment prospects; involvement in sports is providing them with a sense of purpose, direction and motivation. 


There is so much support from the people in the community when it comes to these sports activities. Every time there is a sports tournament, whether a rugby tournament or a boxing tournament, the communities come in numbers to support their teams. The support comes in numerous ways, such as those who own taxis transporting the teams to the location of the tournament or food donations to the teams. The local rugby team in Tuba village, where most of the players are working class, was sponsored team kits by a community member and a local institution. Sports activities in Kwelerha bring people together, fostering a sense of belonging and community cohesion. In rural areas where social isolation can be a challenge, sports provide a platform for individuals to connect, build relationships, and support one another. 


However, most of the people who participated in sports activities in the community of Kwelerha stated that the COVID-19 lockdown limited their activities and discouraged many athletes. The lockdown restricted people from gathering and forced them to stop participating in sports. This negatively affected their mental health and well-being because sports were a coping mechanism for their challenges; lockdown restrictions forced them to be indoors and face these challenges. When the lockdown restrictions were lifted, people were allowed to participate in sports again, but they were not allowed to gather and watch tournaments. This still had an impact on the players since they relied on the support from the community that came and watched their games. After the COVID-19 pandemic, sports tournaments were back to normal – people were allowed to support their teams and public gatherings were not restricted anymore.


Figure 2: The Red Lion, local rugby team from Tuba Village, Kwelerha. (Taken by Anelitha Tukela)


It is clear that sports serve as a powerful tool for fostering positive change and empowerment in rural communities. By engaging in sports activities, individuals experience numerous benefits including improved physical and mental well-being, enhanced self-confidence and leadership skills, and strengthened community bonds. Sports programs in rural areas promote inclusivity, provide educational opportunities, and stimulate economic development. Harnessing the transformative power of sports enables rural communities to become more resilient, inclusive, and vibrant, ultimately contributing to their overall development.

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