About the Author: Sharon Hudson-Dean serves as the press attache at U.S. Embassy Pretoria.
I kid you not -- someone was walking around my neighborhood in Pretoria at 6 a.m., blowing a vuvuzela for an hour. It was a very chilly, misty morning, and even though it was early, it was the most wonderful, exciting sound and giving me goosebumps all over. Then, I turned on radio 702, Joburg's popular talk radio station, and instead of their usual "xx days to kick off" intro, they blasted Shakira's Waka Waka. Today is the day.
Last night's big concert in Soweto (yes, the same stadium that hosted all those white rugby fans for a great championship game two weeks ago) was a packed, exuberant celebration of the World Cup. Some criticized the line-up for not being African enough, but instead, it was really reflective of the mix of soccer fans that are here now. Watching kwaito, jazz, hip hop, Latin, R&B and indie rock music flow together onstage was, not wanting to be too cute, like the colors of the South African flag. It was really different; it was certainly colorful; and it was uniquely South African. I watched it on TV, but my friend who runs the Joburg bureau of one of the big wire services, called me from the concert and said the vibe was fantastic.
This is truly a great day to be in South Africa. And our Vice President, his wife, his daughter Ashley and son Hunter, and one soccer-crazy grandkid, Maizy, are here to see it. Which is apt -- this is really a family celebration. The focus is on the sport and in many ways, sharing the sport among all ages. A lot has been done in advance of the Cup to bring the game and all of the life skills associated with it, like teamwork, healthy lifestyles, and hard work, to the children of South Africa and the rest of the continent.
Dr. Jill Biden did her part yesterday when she delivered soccer balls to kids in Soweto at the Mapetla Day Care Centre. With funding from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Mapetla provides care and early education for 102 orphans and vulnerable children, including life skills development, and preparation for primary school. During the visit, Dr. Biden noted how wonderful it was to see the results of part of her husband's Senate work, which is funded by American taxpayers. She noted, “If it wasn't for this Center, these kids would have no place to go.” Which is no exaggeration. One of the mothers there commented that without the center, she could not work or else would have to leave her child in their township shack unattended. Neither option is acceptable in a place where over two million crimes were recorded by the police in 2009, and sexual offenses rose 12 percent over the year before.
But the real highlight of the visit for the kids was Kami, the HIV-positive muppet from Takalani Sesame, South Africa's version of Sesame Street. Together, Dr. Biden and Kami handed out the soccer balls in celebration of South Africa hosting the first World Cup on the African continent. Kami is one of the greatest TV characters ever created for kids in this country. In 2002, Sesame Workshop introduced Kami, an HIV-positive character to Takalani Sesame, the USAID-funded South African version of the show. The name Kami comes from the Setswana word Kamogelo, which means 'acceptance' or ‘welcome.' She is a furry yellow five-year-old HIV-positive girl muppet who always has the sniffles. Kami's mother died of HIV/AIDS, and she got HIV from a transfusion of tainted blood she received as an infant. The brilliance of Kami is that she shows little kids here how to deal with loss and sad feelings in a way that three to seven-year-olds can understand.
Watching those children smile at Kami and hold new soccer balls is a great inspiration for overcoming tremendous suffering. And, hopefully today, an inspirational first game (and victory by Bafana?) will make those same kids spend this weekend and many more to come running around a soccer field, getting strong and learning how to work with their friends to get the ball in the goal.
Read more about Vice President Biden's visit to Africa on WhiteHouse.gov.To view photos from the U.S. Embassy Pretoria, click here.Follow the U.S. Embassy Pretoria on Facebook and Twitter.For information on the World Cup in South Africa, visit the U.S. Mission's website.See Sharon Hudson-Dean's previous entry: U.S. Embassy Pretoria Prepares for Vice President Biden's Visit to South Africa.