Sanja Brankovic, Cassandra Taylor, Denise Garneau and Kevin Desmarais
While the world was caught up in the excitement of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa this summer, a much smaller celebration occurred at a school in one of the country’s impoverished townships.
Thanks to the efforts of a group of four Laurier students, the Zweliyazuza Primary School outside of Pietermaritzburg installed its first goal posts and nets, the initial step to creating a soccer field for the school’s students.
“It was ironic that in all the hype leading up to the World Cup, a school in the host country was too poor to have its own soccer facilities,” said Len Friesen, associate professor of global studies and history, who worked with the Laurier group as their university faculty mentor.
The Laurier students, Sanja Brankovic, Cassandra Taylor, Denise Garneau and Kevin Desmarais — all Garfield Weston Scholars — formed a connection with the school during an international learning trip funded by their scholarships in 2008. During a visit, the group learned the school had very few resources and no library.
The Laurier students and Friesen made individual donations to fund a new library, though the students say they gained more than they gave.
“The time we spent at Zweliyazuza was transformative for all of us,” said Brankovic. “It was a moving experience to be with students and staff, and to be so welcomed by all of them.”
Their initiative struck a chord with Roger Lindsay, a friend of the university and a trustee of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. He also contributed to the library project, but also wanted to do something that would be more playful for the children at Zweliyazuza. Inquiries were made, and out of these came the decision to fund goal posts and nets to coincide with the World Cup.
Immediately after the posts were installed, students donned their soccer uniforms and tried out the new nets. Beaming student faces and shouts of joy told the story.
“Soccer fever has hit South Africa, even to the depths of the rural areas and we are so pleased to be included in this way,” said Zweliyazuza Primary School principal Musi Zuma upon receiving the gift. “The posts will serve as a daily reminder of your kindness to us.”
“It’s such a thrill to know that our time at Laurier started a process that has allowed students in need to be able to celebrate sports through soccer in addition to the library project,” said Brankovic, who has since graduated along with her peers.
In August 2011, a new group of four Laurier Garfield Weston scholarship recipients will travel to South Africa and visit the school. They intend to raise funds for the school library in the coming year in anticipation of their visit to Zweliyazuza.
“Any assistance we can provide will pay dividends for the whole community,” said Friesen. “And it speaks to the students’ efforts, to the generosity of Mr. Lindsay, and to how small deeds can help those down and out have something to celebrate.”