JOHANNESBURG – When Clete Stevis began the Human Empowerment Fund (HEF), he couldn’t have imagined that one of England’s top-tier football teams would be interested in collaborating to help change the lives of low-income Westbury residents.
The HEF is a holistic programme that seeks to change the circumstances of disadvantaged people and communities through empowerment. The project provides food security, education and restoration in the communities they serve.
Sport provides a key component in restoration. HEF regularly hosts sports training clinics that help the youth who participate to develop social, ethical, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills. The programme recently partnered with newly-promoted English Premier League club, AFC Bournemouth, to host such clinics in the country over the last week in May.
A big part of the project is to provide mentorship and positive role models for the youth. During the clinics, Bournemouth women’s goalkeeper Katie Scadding assisted with coaching duties and provided an example for the girls in attendance.
The initiative has been in the pipeline since 2019 but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan is to have a sustainable, ongoing partnership that benefits the children taking part in the long term and not just to keep them busy for one day. Going forward, the idea is for the club’s coaches to return in July 2023, where they will remain for an extended period and host more clinics.
“We have a thriving community project back home. One of our ambitions now that we’re back in the Premier League again, is to keep on expanding that and to let more people know about Bournemouth… To come here to Johannesburg this week, and to put sessions on in schools widens the group of players we can reach out to,” said Steve Cuss, the head of community outreach projects at AFC Bournemouth.
Helping his community has been a part of Stevis’ life for as long as he can remember. As a child, his mother, Maureen, began her own feeding scheme in Newclare in 1986 from her kitchen at home. She fed destitute people in Westbury and Sophiatown. Stevis developed a sense of love and compassion and was inspired to continue the work she started.
The success of Stevis’ project has spread to other provinces. HEF now has initiatives in Gauteng, North West and the Western Cape.
Meanwhile, the same kitchen where Mrs Stevis began her charitable work, now serves as a bakery that feeds 200 children every day. The house itself is a community house that provides counselling for gender-based violence and provides music lessons for children too.
Paying it forward and ubuntu are key themes for Stevis. He hopes to create a ripple effect of people empowering people and leaving a legacy of people in their own communities helping each other to solve the challenges their community faces.
“You can’t change the whole community, but you can change a community one person at a time,” he said.