Sipumle Ntlako and Lisakhanya Mtumtum from Langa enjoyed the trip of a lifetime after their essays offering solutions for water conservation won them tickets to a Manchester United football game.
The teenagers experienced the thrill of attending a match at the famous Old Trafford stadium, stayed in a hotel and saw the sights of Manchester, thanks to a Swedish businessman who believes in the power of dreams.
Both teenagers say their eyes were opened to new possibilities: Mtumtum, aged 16, said: “I’ve learnt that the world is full of opportunities as long as the determination is there. As long as you want to succeed as badly as you want to breathe. This trip has helped me discover my strengths and learn a lot more about myself. I now know there are greater things in this world, more than what I am constantly exposed to.”
Ntlako, 19, says: “I had lots of fun, and I wouldn’t replace the experience with anything. I enjoyed the part where we went sightseeing and that made me want to make history, to bring the buildings of England to South Africa, and merge the buildings with the creativity of Africa.
“The stadium was fantastic and the magnitude of the people in attendance was out of this world. I couldn’t stop smiling because I was so amazed with the amount of people in attendance, the energy, the singing and the players.”
The competition the pair entered was run by Langa and Gugulethu based NGO Project Playground (PPG) and sponsored by Anders Jacobson, co-founder and CEO of Blue, the Stockholm-based sustainability-driven investment company that owns Bluewater, a water purification and technology company.
“Giving kids the opportunity to experience a new world and see different paths for their future, far from the struggles they confront in their day-to-day life can give them the support, appreciation and the courage to dream about the future they want,” said Jacobson.
He said arranging the visit to his favourite football team Manchester United’s home ground Old Trafford was aimed at providing an insight into what can be achieved by anyone from any background if they focus on leveraging their natural talents.
Jacobson was introduced to PPG during a visit to South Africa in 2017 and a strong affiliation with Bluewater has developed, with PPG incorporating water and conservation awareness into their programmes.
PPG is a registered non-profit after-school care centre with two centres based in Langa and Gugulethu, founded in 2010.
The centres create opportunities for vulnerable children and youth by strengthening their personal and social development through the use of sport, art, dance and drama. Soccer is one of the most popular and successful programmes at PPG.
Lesley Sykes, fundraising and donor relations manager at PPG, says that when Jacobson offered the gift of this fantastic trip, they set a challenge to the learners that tied in with the Bluewater mission to provide clean drinking water to all and to eliminate the need for single-use plastic water bottles.
The challenge was to write a detailed description of how they would stop the wastage of water in Langa and Gugulethu.
Ntlako’s entry essay clearly laid out the problems around water security, explaining that we need to approach it as a group and not see it as one person’s problem.
He identified many ways of saving water in the home, in the community and in schools, and suggested awareness campaigns, for example through schools where learners put on a play for their peers.
“Water is a very important resource. We often take it for granted. We think we have enough to sustain us for the rest of our existence but no we don’t,” he says.
“Hopefully, this competition helped support the work to boost understanding of people and planetary health, and that the experience the winners took home from their trip to Manchester will inspire kids in the community to dare to dream about fulfilling a purpose in life, which perhaps is especially important for socially vulnerable kids,” said Jacobson.
The full Project Playground group that travelled to the UK was made up of competition winners Ntlako and Mtumtum, Ms Sykes and soccer coach Mvuseleli Nokwali.