Scoring quietly, scoring big

30 March 2004

There is a group of volunteers that, with little fanfare, has been making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged South Africans for 13 years now, and their impact continues to expand.

Sports Coaches’ Outreach (Score), founded in 1991 by American Olympic rower Juliet Thompson, has exposed hundreds of thousands of South African children to sports and coaching that they would otherwise never have experienced – by mobilising groups of volunteers from around the world.

Thompson, on a visit to South Africa in 1990, was shocked by the lack of sports facilities, equipment and activities in schools, and volunteered to assist at a school in Khayelitsha township outside Cape Town.

According to Score’s website, it was during this time that she came up with the idea of starting an organisation that would bring volunteers to South Africa to give sporting opportunities to children in disadvantaged areas.

In Score’s first year there were five volunteers. Today there are over 60 volunteers active in six of South Africa’s nine provinces, as well as in Zambia and Namibia.

Amazing numbers
In total, over 500 volunteers, from 22 countries on five continents, have worked for Score in South Africa. Over 400 000 children have benefited from their work and over 10 000 teachers have been trained. More than 20 different sporting codes have been taught, and 28 multi-purpose sports facilities have been built.

It all began in Khayelitsha in 1990, but it very nearly died in 1993 when, because of a deteriorating security situation, the volunteers – including the first group from the Netherlands – decided to return home. Only SA soccer star David Notoane was left to fly the Score flag.

The following year, though, in 1994, Score was officially registered as a non-governmental organisation, with a tiny head office in a small bedroom in the Cape Town suburb of Observatory. The Dutch Olympic Committee sent out some volunteers, including the organisation’s first two co-ordinators.

In the same year, Score also took its programme into a rural area, with Ceres being the first to benefit. For the first time in the area, events were held at which black and white children played sport together.

White schools’ involvement
A big move took place in 1995 when Score moved into the offices of the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town. A full-time CEO, Stefan Howells, was also appointed, and Score expanded its rural programme into other parts of the country. In addition, white schools became involved.

The impact of the programme was recognised in 1996 when the Ministry of Sports and the National Sports Congress approached Score to do work in the then Northern Province (now Limpopo).

A breakthrough came in 1997 when Score, with assistance from a Dutch organisation, instituted a programme for children with disabilities in the Western Cape. The following year the Norwegian Sports Confederation became a partner, and in 1999 the Finnish Sports Federation came on board.

European Union on board
In a landmark decision in 2000, Score became the first sporting organisation to be granted money from the development budget of the European Union.

In 2001, Score joined the Kicking Aids out network, making HIV/Aids awareness part of its programmes.

Score’s stated mission is to “build stronger communities through the empowerment of people, by using sport as a medium of development, with the focus on disadvantaged children and youth, and by engaging volunteers and promoting volunteerism”.

Belgian volunteer Lisbeth Koppers reckons being part of the programme is a wonderful experience. “It is just great – I can’t describe it any other way”, she says. “There are, of course, some things that are not so nice, but you forget those things when you see the smiles of the children.”

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