Football to address fatherlessness in South Africa

New 2012 Squad with a signed Liverpool shirt.
New 2012 Squad with a signed Liverpool shirt.

Dear friends,

The 2012 season is just beginning for our prison Hope Academy. We are excited about the new season and have spent the first two months of this year recruiting new players of the Academy.

We have now finalized our 2012 Hope Academy team and the young men are looking forward to the new year and developing in their football, characters and education.

One of the big changes this year will be the wardens in the prison taking on more responsibility in the Academy. Last year we spent time training up the prison management and some of the wardens in how to run the Academy. This has been a positive step as the prison have begun to take more ownership of the program.

We have trained one warden in the football philosophy of the Academy and we have appointed him head coach for the 2012 season. Our coaches will continue to train and equip him this year and monitor his coaching progress. We have also trained on of the juvenile offenders who is showing tremendous potential as a coach. 

The prison are also organizing for the team to play in an external league this year. This is a big step for the prison Academy and will mean they will have strong competition throughout the year.

Over Christmas we had no instances in the prison cell during the holidays, this is a great testimony to the Academy development and the behavior of the young men. 

We have been following up many of the young men who have been released and we are pleased to report that many of them are doing well. One of the young men called Simphiwe has started college and is studying Business Marketing. Simphiwe has also joined one of the oldest football clubs in Cape Town and made their first team which is quite an accomplishment.

Your funding has enabled us to print off our new life skills manuals - over the next few months we will be working through our new life skills curriculum based on the famous coach John Wooden, we are excited to teach this to the young men. We have also managed to buy some equipment for the coaching training.

Finally the young men were exception in their education last year, the Academy monitors and supports all our players to progress in their education. All the boys passed except for two who will re-write this year, this was an amazing achievement. Through your funding we have also managed to place two young men (Thulani and Bongani) into correspondence courses in the Academy. This is an amazing opportunity for them and they are very capable young men and we have no doubt they will excel in their education.

Thanks for your continued support to this project. Young men in prison can be regarded as one of the most socially excluded groups in the world. The majority of young men who have graduated from our program have gone on to become responsible citizens of society.

We hope you will continue to support us as we work hard to rehabilitate these young men to reach their full potential.

Dear Supporter,

Thanks for all your support to the Hope Academy project in 2011. This year has been an amazing year for the project as we have continued to develop our prison based Academy in Drakenstein and our community based Academy in Soweto. As you are aware our prison based Academy has been our flag ship project and received a lot of attention globally. The Academy uses soccer as a tool to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and lead them out of a life of violence and crime. The reoffending rate in South Africa is 85% for offenders but currently our Academy program has a total of 7% of our inmates in prison presently. This is an amazing statistic. We were recently nominated for the Beyond Sport global awards which awards the best sport for development projects globally. We were a finalist out of 425 entries from 125 different countries, sadly we lost out by 1 vote! However we had delegates come and visit the program and they were blown away by what has happened in the prison and the lives of many of these young men. The Soweto Academy has grown from strength to strength this year as we have continued to build strong foundations for the Hope Academy model to be replicated in other countries in Africa from the beginning of 2013. We believe strongly that we need to be providing long term intervention programs in Africa so that our children can have the best possible chance of success. We have had children grow in amazing ways, some of them excelling in school, others in football and all of them have grown in their characters. 2012 will be an exciting year for all of us as we continue to develop Hope Academy further. Your support has been a massive help to us as we look to continue to walk a road with some of the most vulnerable and marginalized youth in South Africa. Here are just two stories of lives impacted this year from both Drakenstein and Soweto: SIMPHIWE MITIGANE Hope Academy first started running trials to select prisoners for the new Academy in Drakenstein Prison in January 2008. During this time Simphiwe was locked in isolation for violently stabbing two other inmates in the prison. Simphiwe was an active '28' gang member and had a violent history. However, he also had a love for football. Whilst the trials were taking place, Simphiwe begged the wardens to allow him to attend and trial for the Academy. One warden had pity on him and took him to the field. Once the Hope Academy coaches saw his talent they decided to give Simphiwe a chance. The Academy took a risk, shared God's love with him, and invested in his life. One day in the Academy cell he decided to leave the gang and embrace a dramatically different way of life. Simphiwe's life was changed and he has subsequently become a strong role model for other Prisoners. Since being released he has become a motivational speaker for youth in poor communities, sharing his story and the message of hope which changed him forever. THABISO NOKWE Thabiso is 10 years old. He lost his mother in 2008 and has never known his father. Thabiso currently lives with his aunt and four cousins in a small shack in Soweto. No one is employed in his home and the family lives off a social grant from the Government. Despite this, he has made huge progress since joining the Soweto Hope Academy in April 2010. He has received 6 awards for academic progress in school and is also showing great potential on the soccer field. The Academy coaches play a significant role in his life as he has no father or male role model to support him. The Academy is also committed to developing him holistically until he leaves school and working alongside his family. With no regular intervention from positive role models, Thabiso would be in danger of making poor choices later in his life. Through long term intervention and mentoring we are giving Thabiso the best opportunity to be successful in the future. For more stories click on the URL below, we are so thankful to see these young lives changed. We have also uploaded our end of year report for you to look through if you would like more information on the work of Hope Academy this year. Please consider supporting us further in 2012. We still require equipment, one of our biggest needs is a new kit for the prison Academy so consider contributing to that. Our other biggest need is the car we use to drive through to the prison, it takes our coaches over 2 1/2 hours each day we visit the prison and we are using quite an old unreliable car, we know this is a big ask but something one of you may want to consider helping this project with.

We wish you all a great Christmas and New Year and once again thanks for your kind support.

The Hope Academy Team


Zola - giving back to his community after prison!
Zola - giving back to his community after prison!

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We trust you are all well. We want to update you on some exciting things happening with the Hope Academy project in South Africa.

Once again thanks for supporting this project and making it possible for us to reach some of the most poorest and marginalised youth in Africa. I will try and keep it brief!

1. Our prison project has grown tremendously this year. The prison authorities have become more and more excited about the program and have started to oversee some of the administrative and coaching duties of the Academy. Recently we have had many young men released from the program and we are following them up in the communities. This is an area we are looking to develop more as these young men need support and encouragement the most when they are released. Currently 27 boys have been released since we began in 2008. 3 are studying, 9 are employed, 9 unemployed, 1 we have lost contact with and 5 are back in prison. Unemployment is a big factor with 85% unemployment in the townships and cape flats, add a criminal record and you can imagine how hard it is for these boys to get jobs, even the most determined boy can become disillusioned. This is something we want to work further on next year through supporting the boys in the communities more. We have a reunion on the 15th of October for all the young men who are released, it should be a great time together. However, when you get a phone call and hear one of our graduates say he has passed his Level 3 in Electrical Engineering and wants to give back to his community it makes what we do so worth it.

2. Also we have launched our new website. Please check it out as it will give you more of an idea of the Hope Academy project and how you can support us further.

3. We have developed a strategic business plan that will enable us to develop twenty football Academies in disadvantaged communities across Africa by 2020. If you would like to see this or believe you know people who want to make a significant difference in the lives of many young children then please contact me on

4. Finally please check this video on youtube from our Soweto Academy this gives the story of two of our young children in the Academy - it shows the reality of our situation and how the Academy is so essential in raising the aspirations of disadvantaged youth.

Join us on Facebook & Twitter as this will help you keep updated with everything in Hope Academy:!/aishopeacademy!/aishopeacademy

There is so much more to share but I appreciate you are all busy people, please feel free to contact us if you want to find out any more about the Academies.


Zola - giving back to his community after prison!
Zola - giving back to his community after prison!


New Hope Academy Logo
New Hope Academy Logo

Hi Everyone,

We are pleased to announce that our prison based Drakestein Hope Academy has been nominated for the Beyond Sport Awards in Cape Town from the 5th - 8th of December. This is a great honor as our work has been recognised as a leader in the area of development through sport. You can find our more information here:

Also we have had a great time in our Soweto Academy. On Youth Day we had a visit from professional players and patrons Ricardo Katza and Matthew Booth who helped coach over eighty children in the community, including many of our Academy children.

Our captain in Drakenstein was released from prison last week. Zola has been an inspiration to so many prisoners and we are excited to see how he will impact many people in his community in the future. Please click on this link to learn more about his release, this report is done by our intern who has been working in the prison this year, it makes for a great read!

We have also been given great media attention in South Africa through DSTV and Supersport. Supersport has done a 5 minute broadcast on our soccer clinic in Mamelodi which was run in preparation of a new Hope Academy which will be launched in Mamelodi township in 2012. The broadcast will be shown at different time periods over the month of August.

Finally we have launched our new logo and I have attached it to this report. We hope you like it, the ball signifies the footballing excellence we give each child through our coaching, the light represents faith and the rays pointing towards the light represent a bright future.

Thanks for all you support for this project and helping us help many young children across Africa.

I will leave you with a quote from one of our children Thokazane (10 years) from our Soweto Academy, it will give you an idea of some of the situations we face with our children in the Academy.

I stay with my 4 grannys and 4 cousins, 5 aunts and my grandfather and two uncles, we are a family of 19. My mother passed away of HIV/ Aids in 2008. I do not know where my father is. Only 3 people are employed at home. My one cousin and I are supported by one of our grannys who earns a monthly social grant from the government. My cousin is in a similar situation as I am since he also lost his mom in 2009 also through HIV and AIDS. I love school and I’m in Grade 5. If don’t make it as soccer player I want to be a police woman.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Hope Academy, a part of the Ambassadors in Sport program, in South Africa.  The program was started in 2008 by Mark Slessenger based on three principles:  Football, Faith, and Future.  The goal is to use Football (the US equivalent of soccer) to inspire inmates serving up to 10 years in prison to choose constructive paths for themselves while serving time and after they are released.  The impact this program has had on its participants is palpable. 

Thulani, a second-year soccer player, gave me a tour of the Academy.  Beds are made every morning, school is attended every day, and football practice is taken seriously.  Thulani and his comrades seek education, hold upstanding jobs and roles in the prison, including running the library, and sing songs of motivation in perfect harmony before play.  They have won all but two games in 2010, which is an impressive record for any team and amazing considering their competitors are professional South African leagues that play for a living. 

The structure of the game is applied to daily life.  Men receive a green card as a first warning when a rule is violated.   Rules include things like “No bad attitudes”, “Must Participate in School”, and “No Fighting”.  After three cards, a person is expelled from the program and placed back into the general prison population.  Moreover, there are trials every year to invite new people to the Hope Academy and also ensure current participants stay on top of their game.  These rules serve as real incentives to manage behavior in a productive way and to keep people focused on achieving in the program. 

In a prison that has nearly 100% participation in gangs (identified by numbers that distinguish each group’s notoriety--26 (thievery), 27 (blood), or 28 (rape)--and 85% of people return to prison for new crimes after being released, the Hope Academy has 0% gang activity and only 10% recidivism.  What’s more is there has been just one verbal disagreement between two people in the Hope Academy since it started, compared to nightly assaults occurring in the general prison population.  The success of the Academy is awe-inspiring and its only limitation is being able to accept more people into the program.  The football program has been so successful that the prison added three new sports programs - completely supported by the government - within the prison for Rugby, Cricket, and Basketball.

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Project Leader

Ben Marais

AIS SA Director
Pretoria, Gauteng South Africa

Where is this project located?

Map of Football to address fatherlessness in South Africa