Kaya Responsible Travel: South Africa
Final Report: Badgers Football Academy - South Africa
If I had to summarize my remote internship experience in one phrase, it would be “journey before destination.” This summer, I had the opportunity to intern remotely for Badgers Academy, a not-for-profit organization based in Cape Town, South Africa that runs an all-female soccer club for adolescent and teenage girls. Badgers Academy uses its platform to also provide support networks and educational programmes for the girls coming from under-resourced/high-risk areas. I was working on a team of three interns trying to design new programmes consistent with the organization’s goals/models, specifically to create a new soccer/soft skill hybrid learning programme for the girls that Badgers serves. While the end product (in my case a framework for a new sports development programme) was well worth the many weeks of hard work, it was the relationships that I formed along the way with people within and around the communities I was serving that set this experience apart.
As a part of Badgers’ overarching goal to help “create alternative life pathways” for the girls within their programme, my supervisor had the original goal of creating a programme to teach the girls about important knowledge areas in which they might not be getting appropriate education through other means. These topics included diet, sleep, mental health, and techniques for coping with stress, body image and self-esteem maintenance, sexual and reproductive health, and leadership skills. All of these topics are interrelated with sports (and more specifically soccer) in one way or another, so my supervisor wanted to create a “soft skills” educational programme where we could integrate teaching more intentionally about these topics within the context of the soccer field. She tasked one other intern and me with crafting a skeletal structure for what such a programme would look like, how it should be run, what information should be included, and how it should be appropriately integrated with soccer training.
The bulk of the work that I did for Badgers involved researching established and tested methodologies for similar existing sports development outreach programmes and then taking that information and using it to construct the foundation of a new model consistent with my supervisor’s goals. One major goal for the model was to ground its methodology in social-emotional learning (SEL); this concept involves “the process through which adults and children understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions”. Combining sports development with supplemental educational programmes built around social-emotional learning in the context of the soccer field have become increasingly prevalent in the sports development field. In order to prepare the girls for subsequent educational programmes surrounding the previously mentioned topics, we crafted integrated activities based around important “soft skills” utilized in SEL (i.e. self-awareness, social awareness, goal setting, responsible decision-making, etc.). Subsequently, I incorporated SEL learning methods like group learning, mentorship, physical activity, and asynchronous, autonomous activity into my general methodology to be contextualized for each topic-specific programme. I then crafted each programme in conjunction with new soccer training programmes that would be implemented concurrently with my “soft skills” programmes.
Additionally, I was lucky enough to network with some social-emotional learning/sports development experts who had worked with other sports programmes in the Cape Town area. One, in particular, gave me some excellent feedback regarding the work I had done about halfway through the internship. I had been at a point where I had lost sight of what my end product would be; the feedback encouraged me to step back and re-evaluate the big picture of my final deliverables. I asked myself the following questions: “How can I create something that will be tangible, useful, and implementable for Badgers? How can I build a foundation for others to build upon?” These questions led me to restructure the programme design, adding additional activities to facilitate a common baseline about the “soft skills” necessary to appropriately discuss more serious topics related to health and well-being. This shift in focus also taught me about utilizing the existing social capital of others to help create programmes that are realistic, contextualized, and engaging.
During my remote internship experience, I became proficient in a number of important skills, some of which are unique to this type of experience and some of which manifest in a wide variety of international development projects. One of the latter, and probably the most important skill regardless, was the proper utilization of community networking and existing social capital. From what I have learned in my classes in international development studies so far and what was reinforced during this experience, this skill will likely be one of the most useful for me down the road as I continue to do international development work. Community networking using surveys, questionnaires, and in some cases even informal interviews is essential to identifying what the people in the communities believe are their most important needs. These methodologies can also help gauge their interest in certain programmes models and topics as well as to inquire about existing ideas for solutions and hopes for such projects. These various forms of community engagement can then be incorporated into programme methodologies in a way that makes an effort to actively address community needs in a respectful, tangible manner. One of the best ways to do this is to utilize the existing relationships that your preliminary connections have with other members of the community. In my case, I learned this first hand by networking through my supervisor not only with sports development and SEL experts in the field but also with the actual adolescent girls who are already a part of Badger's programmes. Getting input from both of these groups provided important insights into the community’s needs and desires as well as ways to address them that I otherwise would not have had access to.
Other relevant skills that I learned throughout this experience include proficiency in a wide variety of remote communication methods and the ability to help create and maintain a positive workplace environment. Throughout my eight weeks working with Badgers, I used a wide variety of platforms to communicate, including email, Zoom, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Microsoft Teams, etc. Knowing how to use a polite, professional yet engaging tone both “on paper” and “in-person” is an important skill to have, especially in the changing environment both during the continued COVID-19 pandemic and likely in the post-COVID future as well. In addition, using those proper communication techniques allows one to create a remote workplace environment founded upon good communication and mutual respect for others’ environmental differences. There are a variety of challenges that come from working in a cross-cultural setting remotely. In these environments, patience, and perseverance when trying to navigate time-zone differences, cultural differences in terminology related to punctuality, and more are not only challenges that are necessary to compensate for but also can be a way to facilitate community bonding by communicating clearly and respectfully.
While my supervisor made it clear that she wanted us to have a lot of agency throughout the entire internship and that she would be satisfied with any work that was well thought out, I personally had a specific goal that I had set for myself to determine whether I was successful during my internship. I wanted to create a framework that was easy to understand and easy to implement, something that a future Badgers employee or future intern could pick up, read, and immediately be for the most part on the same page as the designers. Since I was not going to be able to witness the fruits of my work myself, I wanted to reach a point where my work could provide as solid a foundation as possible for the logistical work that would need to be done later once COVID-19 restrictions in South Africa have lessened. Personally, while my final product evolved a lot over time, I believe that I gave Badgers a framework detailed enough to satisfy that goal that I set for myself. This process was quite different from anything I had previously experienced; instead of finding success in meeting the deadlines and goals of others, I was both setting the threshold of accomplishment for myself and trying to succeed in my endeavors by achieving and moving beyond that threshold.
Overall, when looking back at the journey I took throughout this internship experience, I can honestly say that it was an incredibly rewarding experience. What began simply as an alternative to the research project I was unable to do ended up being an extremely fruitful experience that taught me more about public health, sports development, social-emotional learning, soccer, South Africa, and much more. I now have a clearer image of where I want to move forward with international development work both in and out of the classroom, and I look forward to taking what I learned this summer and apply it this semester at Notre Dame and far into the future.