Cape Town is one of the world’s best loved cities: flat-topped Table Mountain, two coastlines of white sand beaches, and award-winning restaurants with equally impressive views. But landing here, at tip of Africa, you soon see another side of the city as the highway from the airport zooms you passed row upon row of densely-packed shacks.

A recent study by the World Bank found that nearly half of South Africa’s urban population lives in townships and informal settlements. Life in these townships is a daily struggle: many homes are without electricity, unemployment and poverty are staggeringly high, families are torn apart by addiction, and violence is a constant threat.

And yet recently I took a trip into Cape Town’s townships, and came back feeling inspired! The reason? Project Playground.

Inspiring youth at Project Playground
Project leaders are positive role models and mentors to the children.

Empowering Children, One by One

Project Playground has two centres, one in Langa, and the second in Gugulethu. These are safe havens where young people can spend their free time, away from the troubles and temptations of the township streets. After-school activities include soccer, netball, drama, music and dance; the youngest can join in story time, while older students are offered matric- and exam-support classes.

All too often NGOs have a hand-me-down feel, but not Project Playground. The facilities here are excellent. And the leaders and coaches have that spark that you see in people who are truly passionate about what they do.

But what really struck me was the care and attention given to each child on their programme.

Project Playground Langa football team
Their soccer programme includes 250 boys (and a few girls) playing in six divisions.

Life in the townships can tear people down. Which is why it’s so important that when these youngsters come to Project Playground they meet positive role models: adults who really see them, and who want them to succeed. These coaches and facilitators are there to help them develop their own passions and abilities. And, as their self-esteem grows, so too does their ambition and hope for their future.

This care and attention isn’t limited to sports and recreation either. Project Playground has a social worker who makes regular home visits to learn more about the household environment. They keep an eye on each child’s report cards, offer counselling and support to their parents, and cook a daily nutritious meal for all participants.

Lunch at Project Playground
Every day the children at Project Playground sit down to a cooked meal.

Inspiring Youth

For me, two stories in particular highlighted just how well their programmes are working.

The first is that, as I write this, Project Playground’s under-14 soccer team are representing South Africa at the Gothia Cup (the world’s biggest youth soccer tournament) in China! This isn’t the only success of the Project Playground soccer division, who last year were the first team ever from Langa to qualify for South Africa’s prestigious Metropolitan Tournament.

Then there’s 19-year-old Lerato Letube, who grew up in Langa and has been involved with Project Playground for a number of years. She is now a leader in their Great Corner Lugna Gatan programme – an intervention and prevention initiative that tackles social challenges such as crime and drug abuse.

Lerato just got back from receiving the Queens Young Leader Award, given to her by Her Majesty the Queen at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace!

Lerato Letube & the soccer team
Lerato meeting the Queen, and the Project Playground under-14 soccer team.

Project Playground doesn’t focus on problems, it focuses on potential. These young people are growing up under incredibly difficult circumstances, and yet some of the kids aren’t just surviving – they’re thriving!

Travel with a Purpose

Giltedge Africa supports Project Playground through our ‘Travel with a Purpose‘ programme. This initiative moves our travellers from spectators to participants, as they get actively involved in the fantastic work being done by these organisations.

At Project Playground, for example, you could offer mentorship through sharing your life experiences, and in so doing give these children hope and optimism for their own futures. Or perhaps you have specific abilities such as soccer coaching or life skills to share.

Not only will your time at Project Playground have a positive impact on the youth of South Africa, but the genuine connections that you make are sure to be a highlight of your travels!  

To find out more simply send us a message, and a Giltedge Travel Expert will recommend great ways for you to get involved – matched to your skills and interests.