Thursday 24 May 2012
Portsmouth star Aaron Mokoena says a visit by Premier League Academy Scholars to the townships of South Africa has been a real "eye-opener".
The scholars, who represent 16 Premier League clubs, were joined by Mokoena as they ran coaching clinics for young people from the townships near Cape Town.
And the defender, who made more than 150 Premier League appearances for Portsmouth and Blackburn Rovers, told premierleague.com the visit had been a great success.
"For the boys to come to South Africa is a real eye-opener for them," said Mokoena.
"I left South Africa 15 years ago and doing so changed my life - I know things like this make a big difference"
- Aaron Mokoena
"To be here at their age, it’s so important to bring them out here and it’s great the Premier League is helping to make this happen.
"It really brings home that there’s a life and an outside world and it makes them realise how poor some people are.
"The young people who are here, they have got more, they have got everything. But this is a way of seeing people without much, but who are still enjoying life and still smiling."
The youngsters on the trip were recognised as the Scholars of the Year from 16 Premier League clubs and were chosen for excelling on and off the field.
The visit is a joint project between the Premier League and the Professional Footballers' Association, supported by Sports Chaplaincy UK and Coaching For Hope.
Mokoena, 31, has won more than 100 caps for South Africa and captained the side in his homeland in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
He also created the Aaron Mokoena Foundation, which works to increase and improve opportunities for children and young people across South Africa, using the power of football to impact on education, health and life opportunities.
"I left South Africa 15 years ago and doing so changed my life," he said.
"The most important thing is that they go back to the UK and share their experiences"
- Aaron Mokoena
"I work with kids a lot and I know things like this make a big difference. In South Africa there is, sadly, a lot of crime and some kids are doing silly things or taking the easier path and committing crime."
He added: "Things like this can make a big difference to their lives in the townships of South Africa.
"There are lots of people in need and this kind of project will make a big difference to their lives. In the future, hopefully, we will find success for these children."
As well as running the coaching sessions, the Premier League scholars will be visiting social intervention programmes and also travelling to Robben Island, where former South Africa President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned during the apartheid era.
Mokoena said that the visit itself was just the start in terms of the benefits the trip would bring.
"We have all enjoyed it, putting the smiles on the kids’ faces. It’s been a tremendous trip for all of us. The young people can do what they love and they give a lot back. It’s a pleasure being involved with it, it’s overwhelming.
"The most important thing is that they go back to the UK and share their experiences and that will be the real benefit of the project."