About the Author: Sharon Hudson-Dean serves as the Press Attache at U.S. Embassy Pretoria.
Representation is an important element of diplomatic work. When I was at Georgetown University, we used to joke that my undergraduate division, the School of Foreign Service, was the 'wine and cheese' school. Yet entertaining is a real part of the job in this line of work. "Representational events" are work, not a part of one's social life. They have a very important place in our contact and outreach strategy as a way to bring together groups of key contacts for more relaxed, yet still very important conversations. For a lot of South Africans, getting an invitation to a reception or other event at the U.S. Embassy is a great honor. These "parties" help us build very useful, important relationships with people we work with and to whom we can go in order to help Americans in distress or to move forward a key policy like fighting HIV/AIDS.
So it was in this spirit that we organized a viewing party at the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg to watch the U.S. Soccer team play Slovenia last Friday. Hosted by our Consul General Andy Passen, we set up big screen TVs in several areas and welcomed close to 350 mostly South African guests to cheer the Stars and Stripes with us. The mood was somber through the first half, but exuberant in the second half when we scored three (yes, three!) goals, even through one was ruled offsides.
This viewing party also gave us a chance to spend time with two great student groups here for the games -- Global Girl Media and Team Up. Global Girl Media approached us about six months ago to fund a program for township girls to learn about sports journalism during to the World Cup. The group's spokesperson is Julie Foudy, former U.S. Women's National Soccer Team Captain, two-time Gold Medalist, and now a senior ESPN sportscaster. My office agreed to give the project a grant of partial funding and hooked them into a super motivated and dynamic group of Soweto kids, who just graduated from a two-year after-school English language tutoring program the RELO -- the English Micro-Access scholarship program -- runs.
The girls in the project are now getting training and hands-on experience in story development, HD digital video camera and sound technologies, and editing. These under-privileged kids, who live in township shacks and whose parents may be hawkers or domestic workers, have so far interviewed Dr. Jill Biden and a Brazilian soccer player. They came to our event armed with digital cameras and loads of confidence, working the crowd and doing spot interviews.
We also hosted 15 kids from Team Up, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works with middle school-aged, at-risk kids, teaching them about HIV/AIDS risks and prevention. Before the Cup, Team Up started a pen pal program, matching students in Washington with kids in Soweto, who are part of the Grassroot Soccer program, which we fund. Grassroot Soccer uses "footie" as a vehicle to teach at-risk kids critical life skills. Soccer is an integral part of South African culture, and soccer teams and leagues are ubiquitous structures in the most impoverished areas here.
Building on this respect for the game, the kids in these groups are taught about healthy behavior and the risks of HIV. After months of writing to each other, the American kids are now in South Africa, going to games, playing soccer, and sharing their stories on the effects of HIV/AIDS in their communities. When I was a kid, I struggled to write the most banal things to my pen pal in Europe -- these kids have very serious things to share and will hopefully go home with a broader, more sophisticated world view.
Seeing the possibilities of travel, different cultures and even international sports, will hopefully give them the ambition and drive to take them far beyond their current rough neighborhoods. And yet at the Consulate, they were just kids-- drinking a lot of Coke, waving USA party streamers, and giggling on the floor in chatty groups -- as all red-blooded American kids should be doing on a Friday evening.
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: Three Games in Three Days.