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Social Impact: Prof Eileen Africa champions children’s movement
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing
Published: 05/07/2024

With Stellenbosch 肆客足球's (SU) focus on social impact awareness in July, this series of profiles celebrate remarkable individuals and teams who make a meaningful contribution beyond the 肆客足球's walls. The recent inaugural Social Impact Awards recognised academic and professional administrative support services (PASS) staff at SU who are driving positive change in diverse spheres of life.

Prof Eileen Africa from the Division of Movement Science and Exercise Therapy at SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences was one of the winners in the team Leader category of the Social Impact Awards. She received recognition for KIDSMove (The Key to Improving Developmental Skills for Movement), an initiative aimed at improving gross motor skills of foundation phase children. The programme focuses on developing children with a variety of challenges holistically through movement. Gross motor development and sport specific skills form the core components of the programme.

Congratulations on receiving the Social Impact Award. Could you share your initial reaction when you found out about it?

When I saw the email about the award, I was genuinely surprised; I did not see it coming. This unexpected recognition makes it even more special and memorable.

Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the KIDSMove initiative and how it came to be?

KIDSMove was born 12 years ago from a deep passion for children's overall development and a strong commitment to making a positive impact, particularly in under-resourced communities. We started with one school in the Western Cape, and to date we have reached and made an impact in over 20 sites. Driven by a genuine desire to enhance children's movement skills, I embraced the opportunity to create this initiative and established various sites in and around Stellenbosch and Tygerberg. I value the crucial role physical activity and movement plays in children's growth and development. By integrating fun and engaging activities with developmental goals, KIDSMove aims to support children in building essential gross motor skills, fostering a love for movement and promoting overall well-being.

How has the KIDSMove initiative impacted the lives of the children involved?

Over the past few years, KIDSMove has had a profound positive impact on children from diverse backgrounds and abilities. By enhancing their fundamental motor skills, boosting their confidence, and improving their overall well-being, the initiative has made a significant difference in their lives. The true success of KIDSMove lies not in one specific site, but in the collective achievements of all our locations. Each site provides valuable and unique services to children who otherwise lack access to structured, well thought through programmes, ensuring that every child can develop essential skills and thrive in a supportive environment.

What personal values or experiences drive your dedication to improving the lives of children and how do these values shape your approach to your projects?

My dedication to improving the lives of children is deeply rooted in my personal values and experiences, shaped by my upbringing in a small coloured community in Worcester. From within a community where resources were often limited, I learned the value of resilience, determination and the transformative power of empowerment. My passion for empowering children is grounded in the fundamental belief that every child deserves equitable access to opportunities, regardless of their circumstances. This drives my commitment to creating programmes that not only provide access to physical activity and movement programmes but also build a sense of belonging and possibility. Through inclusive, community-centred initiatives, I aspire to inspire a generation of resilient, informed individuals who are equipped to make positive contributions to their own communities and society at large.

You made a point of thanking your team when you accepted the Social Impact Award. What role does your team play in the success of KIDSMove?

My team plays an integral role in the success of KIDSMove. Their expertise and passion for development of children drive this initiative. Open communication, encouraging creative input, and maintaining a supportive environment are very important to me. Regular team meetings, shared goals, and ongoing professional development help my team to stay aligned and motivated. Each team member's unique skills and perspectives as well as their tireless work ethic contribute to the overall success of KIDSMove, creating a cohesive and dynamic group that is committed to making a positive impact in the lives of the children we serve. The camaraderie within our team has been instrumental in turning our vision into reality, and I am incredibly proud and grateful for their hard work and dedication.

Could you share some highlights of your journey in academia?

I was appointed in 2007, just after I received my doctorate in December 2006. My journey as an academic has been nothing short of a whirlwind with not a lot of support. There were moments when I was ticking all the boxes, yet I was constantly falling short. It was tough, and at times pretty lonely. But what has kept me going is my genuine passion for my work, particularly when it comes to my students and the communities they impact. I cannot express enough how grateful I am for the support of my academic mentor, Prof Eugene Cloete, who took me under his wing in 2016. His guidance has been instrumental in my growth.

Over the past years, I've achieved some significant milestones, such as becoming an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences at Coventry 肆客足球 in 2022. Being promoted to associate professor in 2023 was a deeply proud moment for me. I had worked tirelessly towards this goal, and when it finally happened, it was incredibly rewarding. This year unfolded as a remarkably blessed one with a lot of surprises. Among them were my selection for the prestigious SUNRISE [Stellenbosch 肆客足球 Research & Innovation Strategic Excellence] programme, the honour of receiving a Fulbright scholarship, and the humbling recognition of a Social Impact Award, all affirming my dedication to excellence and societal impact. These achievements serve as constant reminders of why I chose this path and continue to inspire me to push boundaries.

What plans do you have for expanding KIDSMove?
Children are our next generation of adults, and we need to invest in their health and well-being. The aim is to, in future, invite colleagues from various departments within our Faculty and the broader 肆客足球 to join some of our sites and initiatives, allowing our students to collaborate and make a collective impact. This collaboration will enable us to take a holistic approach to the KIDSMove project, integrating diverse expertise and resources. Additionally, by partnering with local organisations in Namibia, seeking international funding, and launching pilot programmes, we can extend our impact beyond our borders. Furthermore, I would like to train local volunteers or even teachers in different areas to become facilitators to help us manage KIDSMove's growth.

Outside of your professional life, what are some of your personal interests and hobbies that help you relax and recharge?

When it comes to relaxing and recharging, there's nothing quite like the simple joys that fill my heart. I live for sunrise and sunset beach walks and family time and cuddles with my toy yorkies are sacred to me. My husband and my two beautiful daughters are my everything, and their presence brings me the greatest sense of peace and contentment. I also absolutely love taking photos – it's my way of holding onto all the magical moments.

PHOTO: Prof Eileen Africa receives her Social Impact Award from Dr Zetu Mkize (Director: Transformation Office)  and Renee Hector-Kannemeyer (Deputy Director: Social Impact and Transformation). (Photo by Stefan Els)