We’re standing on the sidelines of a dusty soccer pitch at Malwana Primary School, Hluvukani, a rural village deep in Mpumalanga. Around us are hordes of noisy youngsters watching a Dreamfields soccer tournament. The afternoon is loud with heat and dust and the highpitched excitement of young voices. Parents and teachers patrol the sidelines and when a goal is scored, the womenfolk burst from amongst the spectators and run onto the field ululating.
The heroes of the afternoon are the players in their smart soccer kits, young warriors panting and blowing, with shirts askew and socks around their ankles. They have played their hearts out but are already hungry to go back for more. “If we let them, they will play to midnight,” says Ralph Mdluli, secretary of the Manyeleti School Sports Council.
Dreamfields founder John Perlman explains the origins of the project, started three years before the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa. “My dream was that all communities, particularly townships and rural schools, would receive tangible benefits from the World Cup. By partnering with corporates, we were able to reach primary schoolchildren around South Africa by providing complete soccer kits, building soccer fields and creating events where schoolchildren could play in tournaments.”
Although the 2010 World Cup has come and gone, Dreamfields continues to grow. The project has ‘got legs’ as they say. “It’s easy to have a once-off event,” John points out, “but our real goal is to establish league-based football as a regular part of primary school life. With better football players, you build better schools and better communities.”
Dreamfields was started in 2007 by John Perlman with primary funding from Old Mutual and BHP Billiton. The project has since touched close on 20 000 individuals, impacted 2 361 schools, donated 1 985 Dreambags containing soccer kits for a full team, built 14 Dreamfields and hosted over 170 Dream Events in South Africa and Mozambique.
Malwana Primary School has one of three soccer fields constructed with R1 million start-up funding provided by the Old Mutual Foundation. These may not be the grass-green football fields of picture books, but to this community it’s a joy – a completely level area that’s been graded bump-free, rock-free, puddle-free and even has junior-sized goalposts. Not only are there two fields to play on, but 20 schools in the surrounding area have each received fully branded team gear and soccer boots – the bursting pride of many young players, most of whom don’t even own school shoes.
Many rural schools cannot afford to buy lime powder and instead build a large fire before an event in order to use the residual powdery-grey ash to mark out the field lines.