The township of Langa is one of the townships in Cape Town, well known for being a mine of Black Excellence. One thing that tends to be forgotten about is the humble beginnings of that journey to that reputation and most of the pockets of organisations behind the continuous improvement of the township and its people.
The Vusa Rugby and Learning Academy have been doing great work in the township of Kwa Langa for over 20 years. The Vusa Rugby Academy started as a passion project in 2001 to kick start the young black youth of Kwa Langa with their rugby journey. Brendon Fogarty, a teacher from Bishops Diocesan College, after 21 years of founding Vusa Academy, still speaks with passion when it comes to the programme. This is great as the working culture of Vusa Academy is easily identified as it was crafted by its founder.
One thing Vusa Academy has done well in its operations is by empowering not only the children of the Langa township but also the coaches. In our interview with both Brendon and Nikki Mathews, who runs the operational side of Vusa Academy Kwa Langa, we are aware of how she speaks in a stern but also very fond way of the coaches who form part of this program, she speaks of their positive energy, can-do attitude and their eagerness to create ongoing training and playing opportunities for kids Kwa Langa, even at the face of challenges brought on by the pandemic. We spoke at length about the power of community and how engaging from a point of compassion and understanding, the academy has been able to tap into the shared ideologies of education through sports and development through sports. We asked how Vusa Academy managed to navigate around the COVID 19 pandemic and two years after experiencing the uncertainties of different levels of lockdown, and how Vusa Academy managed to still maintain its space and role within the community of uLanga. In Nikki’s own affirmations, if it wasn’t for their coaches, Vusa Academy might not have survived the covid-19 pandemic wave Kwa Langa.
In a neighbourhood like uLanga where socio-economic living conditions differ in levels of misfortune, working with people who think outside the box and are dedicated to touching young lives by keeping activities alive goes a long way. The programme had to adapt to how it operated during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the misfortunes of lockdowns, school and municipal facility closures, leaving the children most vulnerable and without structured activities and school, the coaches step in on this pulled the community closer to Vusa Academy.
With the bridge of a holistic approach to kids’ participation Vusa Academy pairs, it’s rugby playing and training activities with a feeding scheme program. The Vusa Academy’s kitchen operations before Coivid -19 ran at Langa Sports Field. The closure of the municipal sports facilities at the peak of Covid-19 meant that the feeding scheme programme was suddenly shut down along with the sports programme. This was a major issue as some of the children get their first meal of the day through the feeding programme. Another nod went to the coaches on how they managed this challenge, how the coaches actively stepped up and found ways around this hurdle made an impression on both Nikki and Brandon. The coaches went out of their way to ensure that the children were fed through the feeding scheme programme and found alternative avenues and venues still to run the feeding programme, access to the community is a strong vehicle for change, and the Visa Academy partnerships with creches & schools Kwa Langa created opportunities against challenges for the feeding program. When the South African presidency allowed people to work out, the coaches initiated sessions at parks. For the coaches to make means by exercising in available park space, this was probably enough for some kids to escape their reality and aid in the ongoing relationship with the kids and community with Vusa Academy.
In its growth, Vusa Academy did not create any bottleneck issues which is another significant matter to observe about the Vusa Academy & visible across the board. The growth has contributed to the holistic development approach of each child. The Vusa Academy’s early development programme focuses on not only doing physical education but incorporates reading to children and education activities. This is before a child even knows what rugby is. Yet, a connection is already being established, meaning Vusa Academy moves beyond just playing rugby and feeding the kids but is true to what a holistic child development programme looks and feels like, with a dedicated focus on this holistic approach the next step was to ensure there was also assisted in developing the children’s intellectual abilities through more reading and an establishment of an inclusive academic programme developed to aid the children to be able to express themselves academically and intellectually without language barrier issues, this rooted a foundational phase of development through reading and the ECD’s children that go to primary school are given books to read.
Another important component in the holistic development programme at Vusa Academy is the recreational programme that assists with social skills development. This is done in various ways either by the children playing rugby matches at schools with good rugby facilities or by taking the children to activities like hiking. These help in exposing the children to a life beyond their neighbourhood. So they are able to dream of a life beyond their neighbourhood as they have seen it.
Strategic partnerships in such a programme are very important as without them such programmes either die out or do not grow to their full potential. Bishops Diocesan Academy has been a great pillar for Vusa Academy. As Bishops has been a good partner initially with the rugby development programme. When Vusa Academy started assisting children with their education, Bishops was a good first partner. When the Atlas Digibus was donated to Vusa Academy, it was converted into a mobile library (learning centre). The Digibus caters for all the 5 primary schools kwa Langa. This was yet another milestone as Vusa was not just able to work directly with ECD’s from Kwa Langa but could now work with Primary schools directly.
In a world where internet access is crucial to the sustainability and growth of organisations. The partnership with Ikeja has come at the right time. It adds a relationship partner that will continue to sustain an organisation such as Vusa Academy with many positive moving parts. Vusa Academy is based in a central hub of activity for uLanga, based between Ikhaya Le Langa, St Francis and a walking distance to the sports grounds, their offices have been equipped with Ikeja allowing the coaches access to connectivity, the ability to come to the office in the morning, check on emails, communication or do their admin online. Vusa Academy coaches work on an online App that assists in their productivity.
Eliminating to challenges of lack of DATA or access to the internet. Brendon spoke of this collaboration with Ikeja with an air of Glee and appreciation, noting the emphasis on relationship building with the core purpose of benefiting the community, he was very happy to express the relief of Ikeja’s role in providing accessibility through WiFi fitted in all the essential spaces of Vusa Academy activity Kwa Langa, the added highlight to this is also the open-ended opportunity for him to also work from Ikhaya Le Langa [a restaurant] that’s a creative and eclectic hub of development activity stating that the wifi connectivity from Ikeja is strong enough and good. Brendon is already planning to have the next Vusa Academy board meeting at the restaurant.
One thing Nikki mentioned that they are also excited about when it comes to their partnership with Ikeja, is the mobile library also having the Ikeja connection. That is something that opens up more possibilities for developing children. They will be able to research even their own homework and assignments from the mobile library.
21 years of Vusa Academy has come with a lot of challenges but each challenge was overcome by the vision and goal of the organisation. Vusa Rugby and Learning Academy have been about the development of every child who enters through their door. The whole programme is structured on that and the power of community.
With any challenges experienced, the future for Vusa Academy looks bright, connected and accessible.
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