Growing dreams in the dust
Believing that children benefit from sports in numerous ways, the Dreamfields community sports development programme for primary schools has invested more than R36-million in schools’ football.
The project develops football facilities and programmes in township and rural schools.
The Dreamfields project is a non-profit organisation established in 2007 by two founding partners, Old Mutual and BHP Billiton.
“The goal was to spread the benefits of the 2010 Fifa World Cup to townships and, in particular, rural areas and small towns,” says the project’s chief executive, John Perlman.
“The first phase of our work focused considerably on making the most of this opportunity and a lot of energy went into drawing in commercial and community partners, and staging DreamEvents around the country.
“But as the World Cup approached we began to think more about the medium and long-term opportunities and challenges.
“We wanted to make football and the life lessons it could teach a predictable and sustainable part of weekly primary school life.”
BHP Billiton has remained Dreamfields’ sole operational funder since 2010, when the company committed R15-million to the project over five years.
From that base, Dreamfields also raises funds from other donors and has raised a further R7.5-million for the delivery of specific projects over the next 12 months.
The project is founded on the principle that sport helps build better schools and that better schools make for stronger communities.
The project steps in to build and upgrade community football fields and has built 16 to date. Most of these are in small towns and rural areas.
“Our fields act as hubs for football in disadvantaged communities and as focal points for community upliftment and pride,” says Perlman.
Working with the department of basic education, the project has created DreamLeagues, a programme of weekly matches aiming to instill in children valuable life lessons about discipline, determination and teamwork, and what it takes to succeed. More than 800 coaches have also benefited from the programme.
A total of 130 DreamLeagues have been set up across South Africa. With an average of 14 schools per league, that means more than 1 800 schools are now playing Dreamfields football.
The project also supplies schools with DreamBags, which include shirts, shorts, socks, boots, balls and shin guards for 15 players. It has equipped nearly 2 300 teams.
In addition to resourcing and organising inter-school competitions, the organisation has also begun creating appropriately equipped internal soccer leagues for children who are not part of a school team.
The idea is to divide pupils in the school into six-a-side teams, which then play two rounds of fixtures in a league format, which lasts for at least 14 weeks.
“These internal DreamLeagues are also played on a weekly basis and they are equipped with what we call DreamSeed Kits. We have piloted the internal leagues at a number of sites, urban and rural, including Msinga in KwaZulu-Natal and Bosmont in Johannesburg,” says Perlman.
“The rural application of this is especially important, given that many primary schools cannot afford the high travel costs of fulfilling fixtures against other schools.”
Although football may be perceived to be mainly played by boys, Dreamfields points out that about 25% of its participants are girls.
“In addition, a growing number of girls are impacted because contributors increasingly fund DreamBags and other equipment for netball.
“A partnership has been formed with Netball South Africa, with the national body doing coaching courses for teachers and others keen to grow and strengthen the sport.
“Dreamfields works because we live by our slogan: ‘We Grow Dreams’,” says Perlman. “Where we have large sums to invest, we work hard to get maximum value out of that. But we have also had great success getting DreamLeagues going with nothing more than the cost of a trophy and 20 medals.
“That has been the genius of BHP Billiton’s vision — they have created a framework for other contributors, big and very small, to help us grow dreams with whatever they can spare.
“As a result we are seeing a more positive atmosphere in schools. And slowly but surely, the kids and their coaches are getting much better at the beautiful game.”
While growing a small business is not the core purpose, Perlman adds, entrepreneurs of various kinds have benefited substantially from the Dreamfields Project.
These include welders who make goalposts and small grandstands, taxi drivers involved in transporting schools for league matches, caterers and informal traders, DJs and sound engineers who provide audio at larger events, and local entrepreneurs offering first aid services.
Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.