6/30/2010 Jill Colford Schoeniger ’86

Ukuhamba Kukufunda: Traveling is Learning

A South African proverb describes F&M's evolving presence in Cape Town

  • ccc 11 2010


The turf field at the Chris Campbell Center is an emerald green oasis of laughter that stands in stark contrast to the muted browns of the unpaved streets and the pale grey cinderblocks and rusting sheet metal of the thousands of shacks that surround it. For the hundreds of men, women and children who come to play soccer here every week, the center offers an escape from the extreme poverty of Khayelitsha Township.

For the Franklin & Marshall community that helped develop it, the center is the first step in building a lasting presence for the College in South Africa and a fitting tribute to a beloved son and teammate.

The idea for creating a Franklin & Marshall presence in Cape Town originated in 2007 as the vision of men's soccer coach Dan Wagner. "I have a strong passion for the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. As a coach, I have a unique opportunity to pull something special together," says Wagner, who has compiled a 76-49-22 record in his eight years at F&M.

"I wanted my program to have a permanent connection with an African community and provide my players with a firsthand look at the realities of poverty, civil-rights abuses and disease," he says.

Wagner reached out to Ethan Zohn, one of the founders of Grassroots Soccer, an international nonprofit that uses soccer to introduce African children to life skills designed to help them live HIV-free. Zohn and Wagner identified Cape Town as the ideal location for the soccer team's trip, which the team dubbed the Soccer Africa Project.

"South Africa just added up. It is the perfect place for developing a sustainable relationship," Wagner says. "It is politically stable, is home to great universities, is relatively easy and affordable to access when compared to most African destinations, offers a high level of security for our students, is a soccer hotbed and has the tragic history of apartheid."

With the location selected, Wagner turned his attention to his team's visit and began collecting donated soccer equipment to distribute to the local children who often make do with a soccer ball crafted from crumpled paper.

The coach was creating energy and buzz about the Soccer Africa Project among his players and the College community. Then the unimaginable happened.

Honoring a Teammate

  • campbell


Chris Campbell, a senior and inspirational leader of the team, died suddenly while training for the 2007 season. His death set off a chain of events that transformed Wagner's vision for an international learning experience into a mission to create a lasting tribute in Campbell's memory.

"Chris' passing was like placing a cord of wood on a small fire," Wagner says. "Everything with the Soccer Africa Project just exploded."

Campbell's parents, Chris and Mari Ann, worked with their Main Line Philadelphia community to create the CTC Ten Foundation, named in honor of Chris and the number that adorned his soccer uniform.

"Christopher was an unbelievable kid with unbelievable energy whom we all believed was destined to make a difference in the lives of people," his father says. "When he left us, it became our responsibility to ensure that somewhere there was a positive outcome in the world associated with his name since he would no longer be able to do that himself."

The Campbells met with Wagner and began to realize the possibility of connecting Chris' tribute to the Soccer Africa Project. It was decided a synthetic turf field and community center would be built somewhere in South Africa in Chris' honor.

"It all made sense to Mari Ann and me," Campbell says. "The idea touched all facets of Christopher. It includes his love of international travel and soccer and his affinity for working with children. And it reflects his empathy for people who are less fortunate than he was."

A Real Kick

While the foundation worked to identify the proper location for the field and community center, Wagner, the team and an entourage of families and friends embarked on their 2008 spring-break excursion to South Africa.

"We were greeted like rock stars," Wagner says. "Whenever our tour buses pulled into a location where we would be playing or running a clinic, we were surrounded by hundreds of children, and these were some of the poorest communities around Cape Town."

Communities like Khayelitsha Township.

Translated from Xhosa, the primary language spoken in the area, Khayelitsha means "new home," a literal explanation of its creation in 1983. Forbidden to live in the cities by the country's apartheid rules, blacks were relocated to new homes in the surrounding areas or townships.

Nearly 30 years later, Khayelitsha remains a shantytown of an estimated 2 million people. One of the country's largest townships, it is a place where tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are prevalent and unemployment hovers around 60 percent.

Despite the bleak landscape, Wagner and his team found an energy and excitement that was contagious. "We worked with little children who had very little but were happy and positive," Wagner says. "That experience further pulled me into their fight for civil rights. It was the children that drew us into wanting to be more involved."

Ibalalethu. Ikamvalethu. Our Field. Our Future.

No one is more involved in Khayelitsha than Chris Campbell's former teammate, roommate and best friend, Ryan McGonigle '08, who serves as the program director of the Campbell Center. In just under two years, McGonigle has played the role of general contractor, fundraiser, community organizer, soccer coach, mentor, confidant and program director of a new nonprofit organization.

  • dsc 0812 2
"Chris was my best friend, and I am committed to doing the best I can do while I am here," McGonigle says. "I won't go back to the States until I am confident this operation is sustainable and can be left in the hands of a management team I helped create."

McGonigle arrived in Cape Town in September 2008 with a mission to ensure that the Chris Campbell Center got off the ground. Did it ever.

The field was dedicated in January 2009, a little more than one year after it was first discussed. The field has drawn intense attention from the start, including a visit from England's David Beckham, the most recognizable soccer player in the world. The community center, which is designed to host life-skills classes and other educational programming, was opened in March and will be officially dedicated on the first day of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The center's unbelievably fast development is a tale of focus, good luck and determination.

"We are not looking to do things on a grand scale," Campbell says. "One community, one school. Focus everyone on that and not get distracted by doing too many things at once. That's the best way we can ensure positive change in Khayelitsha."

The CTC Ten Foundation also had the good fortune of working with Amandla Ku Lutsha, a local organization dedicated to enhancing education through sports to area orphans and other disadvantaged children. This organization connected the foundation with the Ikhusi primary school, which gave permission to construct the field adjacent to the school, and continues to be involved in the management of the field's programs and events.

The schoolchildren use the field as a playground, but it is at night and on weekends when the Campbell Center transforms the community. "Seeing the activities on the field is the coolest thing ever," McGonigle says. "When the lights are on, the music is cranked up, and you see all these people coming off the streets to enjoy themselves—it is just perfect."

Perfection did not come easily. McGonigle was quick to learn that determination and quick thinking were essential to the project's success as he became aware of the realities of being an outsider who was trying to conduct business in Khayelitsha.

He has worked extensively with the local leaders and has listened to them on how to be a part of their community. "I have learned that the best path to progress is to honor these townships and not start any turf wars," McGonigle says.

Instead, what McGonigle has started is a place embraced by the community and a place the locals point to with pride when they say, "Ibalalethu. Ikamvalethu." Our field. Our future.

Expanding the Vision

What makes McGonigle's accomplishments even more impressive is that he had ventured outside the United States on just two occasions before accepting this job. Today he communicates with the local people in Xhosa and is an experienced leader of a thriving organization.

And now McGonigle does not have to go far to do a little F&M bonding. In August 2009, Amy Cawley '09, another one of Chris' friends, joined him in Khayelitsha as an intern with Grassroots Soccer.

This summer the two young alumni will help welcome current Franklin & Marshall students as they, too, have the opportunity to widen their world-view through travel and study abroad.

  • cover 0090


F&M, in conjunction with IES Abroad and faculty at the University of Cape Town, developed a Global Public Health Community-based Learning Internship for Credit. The 10-week program will be conducted in Lancaster and Cape Town and provide a multidisciplinary look at the public-health issues affecting Khayelitsha.

"Today's students want to be able to apply what they are learning in the classroom," says Susan Dicklitch, associate professor of government, associate dean of the College and director of The Ware Institute for Civic Engagement. "By getting them out of the classroom and into the messiness of the real world, you are better able to show them the potential impact they can make and hopefully demonstrate the value of being an engaged citizen."

Extending the College's commitment to South Africa through an academic component arose from what Dicklitch describes as "something that grew organically from the students and faculty."

"We try not to squelch student passion and interest so long as they meet our criteria," Dicklitch says. "F&M in Cape Town provides students with an opportunity to learn from the community, and it provides the community with an opportunity to benefit from our students. That reciprocity is vitally important to operating a successful community-based learning program."

South Africa represents the latest expansion of the Ware Institute's international summer internship opportunities, joining existing programs in Ecuador and Nicaragua. Kirk Miller, the B.F. Fackenthal Professor of Biology, is developing the curriculum and leading the instruction in Lancaster.

Students will spend four weeks on campus, splitting their time between the classroom and work in various public-health settings. While in Cape Town, the students will work with staff at the University of Cape Town and with public-health and social organizations in Khayelitsha.

This internship is the next step toward fulfilling Wagner's initial vision of a more robust and permanent presence for the College in Cape Town and aligns with what the Campbells and the CTC Ten Foundation hoped would happen in Khayelitsha.

"My hope is that F&M can build on our work by using our facility to explore public-health issues, economic issues and government issues in South Africa," Campbell says. "With the College fully invested, I'm confident that our viability and sustainability in Khayelitsha is ensured."

"We will be successful with this program, with any of our community-based learning programs, if we can get these students out of their comfort zone," Dicklitch says. "Success is personal. It is easy to sit in class and take notes and regurgitate. It is very different to see something, think critically about it and work to create lasting change. That's success."

By that definition—by any definition, really—the Franklin & Marshall experience in South Africa has been successful. McGonigle and Cawley know it. Wagner and the Campbells know it. The faculty and students about to take the next steps in South Africa soon will know it, too.

Uhambe Kakuhle. Have a good journey.
Story 11/7/2012

A Big Sound from a Small Department

Music ensembles have been part of the fabric at Franklin & Marshall College almost since its...

Read More
Story 11/7/2012

In Dog He Trusts

By professional standards alone, Steve Stochaj ’83 is an accomplished Franklin & Marshall...

Read More
Story 11/7/2012

Political Passion

It was Oct. 4, just one day after President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Gov. Mitt...

Read More