- The scores of children happily paddling away on the Orlando dam in Soweto have become a familiar sight to passersby.
- The Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club encourages kids from this community to build a healthy relationship with water.
- The kids are taught essential skills like discipline while keeping them away from the streets.
The Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (SCARC) is encouraging disadvantaged children from Soweto to embrace water instead of fearing it.
The club was founded in 2003 by avid paddler and ADreach CEO Brad Fisher, who hoped to ensure that more black paddlers took part in the sport.
Every week at around sunset, motorists passing by the Orlando dam, just a few kilometres from the bustling Bara taxi rank, get a glimpse of local children paddling on the calm water.
"The Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club is a home away from home that we are trying to create for the kids when they come back from school. We are trying to pull them away from the streets and make them better people," said Nkosi Mzolo, coach and manager at the club.
Mzolo, who also works as a paramedic and firefighter for the City of Johannesburg, said that children in the township must develop a healthy relationship with water.
"All of us grew up with parents who told us we shouldn't play near water," Mzolo said, adding that this has led to fewer black participants in water sports.
The children's safety is the main priority, and the club assists in making sure all members are proficient in swimming.
The club also want girls to feel included and to take part in the sport. Over 40% of the members at SCARC are female.
Fifteen-year-old Lungile Mahwayi told News24 that canoeing had become her favourite hobby over the past four years.
"I've learnt teamwork, discipline, respect, and I've also learnt to enjoy myself to the fullest," she said.
Over the years, SCARC members have competed in many professional races, including the famous Dusi Canoe Marathon, which covers roughly 120km between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
"To the rest of the kids that are out there who want to join but are scared, life is about taking risks, yes, of course, calculated risks. You'll never know where your talent lies unless you try it," Mzolo said.