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Polo for all

On the Uitgedacht farm in South Africa under the programme of the Laureus-supported sports charity project PoloAfrica about 40 kids learn to ride, handling the horses and play polo. Polo is a sport that is still all too often seen as reserved for privileged white communities. The Laureus kids, however, are of black families, coming from the surrounding farms and villages. There is only little diversion and the nearest major town is 25 kilometres away. Every weekend the kids have the chance to learn how to play polo and maybe one day become polo players themselves.
Like all Laureus projects, so much more than just the sport is being enjoyed here. Team spirit, discipline, responsibility are values taught through the regular training and handling of the horses. In “Life Skills Classes”, which takes place after the Polo Training, the children get tutoring in English (reading, writing and verbal self expression) and are equipped with everyday skills to help them farm, such as welding, plumbing and carpentry skills.
Anton, 50 years old, who guides the children at the weekly welding workshop and is known as the heart and soul of the project, is excited about the opportunity given to children at the Laureus project: “I grew up in the same village as the kids from the project. I also dreamed of becoming a polo player. But at that time there was apartheid and there was no way for me to make this dream a reality. Since then a lot has changed. The farm kids still don’t attend the same school as the white kids but, unlike me, they don’t have to get up every morning at 3 o’clock and hike 15 kilometres to the nearest elementary school. But still Polo is not a sport practiced by black people.”
Thapelo, 20 years old, has been with the project for five years. He has now finished school and acts as a coach for the younger kids. On a wooden horse, he trains the beginners how to ride. Only when they can control this well enough are they allowed to play polo on the field. “Polo is great fun. You learn not only the sport, but also the correct handling of the horse. If you’re not good for the horse, the horse is also not good to you.”
Project founder Catherine Cairns is pleased with the enthusiasm of the kids: “When we take our van to pick up the children from their villages, they come running immediately. The polo training at our farm is a highlight for them. They look forward to it all week. Children that are normally quiet, suddenly come out of themselves and are laughing and glowing when they get on a horse.”
Cynthia Tshaka is also enthusiastic about the project. The Laureus Ambassador is a South African karate champion. She now works as a sports presenter on television. She believes the kids appreciate how important the power of dreams is: “I have talked with the kids, especially the girls, and explained to them that they need to set goals and believe in themselves. You can achieve anything if you’re willing to work hard for it.”

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