In some places, soccer is just a game. But in a small rural village in Botswana, the world’s most widely played sport is being used to infuse a sense of community, self-respect and environmentalism among youth. Kyle Runeckles, a third-year biological science student at U of G, will play this kind of “village soccer” during his summer break as part of a Students Without Borders program offered through World University Service of Canada (WUSC).
Runeckles will be living in the village of Maun and working for the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) in its Coaching for Conservation initiative.
Founded in 1989, BPCT is one of the oldest large-predator research projects in Africa and one of only a few of its calibre worldwide, says Runeckles, who is one of several students travelling abroad this summer with WUSC. Coaching for Conservation encourages youth engagement and education using sports as a hook. Part of the education programming is dedicated to health and HIV/AIDS prevention. Botswana has the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, and the goal is to bring this number down by reaching young people.
From May 10 to mid-August, Runeckles will serve as a media, public relations and communications co-ordinator for Coaching for Conservation. He will work with local media and organizations to promote the program and complete program evaluations and assessments.
Runeckles says he is interested in learning how communicators reach their audiences in Africa and comparing their strategies to public relations and communications work in North America. He is also looking forward to learning about the culture in Botswana and is eager to step outside his comfort zone and embrace a new way of life during his time there.
“There’s such a huge global community,” says Runeckles. “I only know a small part of it first-hand, and there’s no good reason for that. As North Americans, we often forget the struggles and challenges faced by people who are only a plane trip away. Getting involved starts with a willingness to step out of your reality and dive into someone else’s. And although it is a little unnerving — I’ll miss communicating daily with my friends and family — that’s what I’m doing.”