This article was originally published on risemiaminews.com on June 9, 2015.
By Linzee Werkmeister
Sam Stokesberry has taken her love of children, God and soccer across the Atlantic to the Western Cape region of South Africa and channeled it into something truly inspiring.
In January of this year, Stokesberry packed her bags and moved 7,672 miles away to Stellenbosch, South Africa. She is currently working for a nonprofit organization called training4changeS, where they focus on using the sport of Futsal to build relationships with the local youth to make a difference in their lives. Futsal is typically played indoors on a hard court and features five players to a side.
The ages of the participants currently range between 5-7 years old, but it’s Stokesberry’s hope to journey with them as they get older. Stokesberry works with the children after school twice a week and every other Friday for futsal league games.
“Our program includes social impact lessons and games that focus on issues such as gender equality, using your voice, discrimination, drug abuse prevention, anti-racism, violence prevention, HIV prevention, teamwork, and making wise choices,” Stokesberry said. “Our goal is to incorporate social impact games into our Futsal practices so we can create a safe learning environment that will keep the kids off the streets and out of danger after school.”
Stokesberry grew up playing soccer in South Florida. She was good at it too and played club soccer while at the University of Central Florida. After graduating with a degree in Sports and Fitness, she worked for several private strength and conditioning facilities including Primal Fit Miami and the Fast Twitch Performance Training.
She also coached soccer at Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory at the high school level and at Doctors Charter School at both the high school and middle school level.
In 2012, Stokesberry first visited South Africa to attend a six-week International Sports Leadership Training Course hosted by the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and SCAS (Sport for Christ Action South Africa). She lived with a group of Americans who also attended the course, and then returned the following year as a co-leader. Stokesberry said that she knew then that South Africa would become her second home.
“When I first came to South Africa in 2012, I saw the great need there was in this country for change and empowerment especially amongst the youth. I also saw their passion and love for soccer which was something I could relate to,” Stokesberry said. “My heart broke when I heard about the obstacles that these kids were having to battle through, and I developed such a great love and compassion for them.”
The following year in 2013 Stokesberry was given an opportunity to come back to the country and coach soccer.
“Being able to see the kids who were told that they would never amount to anything, become kids who now value their own lives and the lives of the next generation is a huge inspiration to me,” Stokesberry said. “They are setting a new standard and they are standing up against hate, indifference, and oppression. It’s been a huge blessing to witness the heart and life changes in these kids and amongst the South African coaches we hire on our staff. I am surrounded by some amazing overcomers and fighters each day I show up to work.”
Stokesberry currently works with six different primary schools in the Western Cape area, and each school is composed of a different demographic. The group, training4changeS promotes cultural diversity and a family-like atmosphere amongst the students and the staff which can be rare to find in South Africa because of deep standing racial tension.
In addition to working with training4changeS, Stokesberry is also partnering with Ambassadors in Football who work with juvenile inmates in Hope Academy within Drakenstein Prison, which is famously known for being where Nelson Mandela was held in the final years of his prison sentence.
The groups says that they focus on “Faith, Football, and Future” by maintaining a strict set of core values within the prison. They are a Christian organization who share the love and hope of Jesus through soccer, while also teaching the boys about character development and life skills.
Aside from her efforts through an athletic platform, Stokesberry works with STOP – Stop Trafficking Of People, which is an organization that fights against sex trafficking by raising awareness throughout Africa by hosting school presentations and outreaches for young people.
STOP is also in the process of establishing safe houses for human trafficking victims in the Western Cape area.
Back in 2012, at the FCA International Sports Leadership Training Course, Stokesberry made fast friends with Rencia Young, a South African who she now coaches alongside with for training4changeS.
“She’s a very passionate, loving and kind person. I adore her, her heart for people is pretty amazing,” Young said of Stokesberry. “She’s full of compassion and that’s what makes her so good in what she does, whether it’s coaching, handing out food to prostitutes or playing soccer with prisoners. I am learning a lot from her especially when it comes to compassion and love towards those who it’s difficult to love.”
Stokesberry said that growing up in South Florida helped prepare her for life in a diverse nation like South Africa.
“Miami is incredibly multicultural, and so is South Africa. But a huge difference is the amount of racism that takes place in this country,” Stokesberry said. “In Miami, I grew up in school surrounded by different languages and cultures and skin colors, but we were all equal and valuable. Women are also discriminated against when it comes to sports, so the young girls who are interested in playing lack the female role models and leaders to look up to in the industry. It’s a lot harder for a girl to succeed in sports than it is for a man in this country. For women, the opportunities just aren’t there…yet.”
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Cover Photo Credit: training4changeS/Submitted
This article was originally published on risemiaminews.com.