Songo Uplifts Kayamandi One Bicycle at a Time
Albert Einstein once said that life is like riding a bicycle – in order to keep your balance you have to keep moving and this really rings true for Songo Fipaza of songo.info – an organisation he created to promote cycling and sports to children in the Kayamundi township. Through this movement, he is steadily uplifting the community and giving these kids an extraordinary new outlook on life.
It all started for Songo in 1992, while already an accomplished sportsman, he was inspired by the achievements of Elana Meyer in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and the good name she was making for South Africa. At the time, he was playing soccer but then focused his attention solely on running, as he preferred the independence. “In soccer you rely on 10 other players, your success in running,” he says, “is up to you”. In 1995 he was representing the Western Cape in South African athletics, but was dealing with an improper diet and a few injuries. By 1998, he was on top form and completed his first half marathon, and by this stage was realising the impact that sport was having on his quality of life. By the time 2004 came around, he had established himself in the sports world of South Africa so much so, that when organisers of the gruelling Cape Epic were looking for a black rider, he offered to step up – provided that they gave him a bike. The organisers, of course, agreed. Since then, Songo has completed seven Cape Epics.
Being on a bike really changed his perspective, he saw the way it brought a person into contact with nature, visiting places that you might not see on foot and, naturally, curated the discipline involved in the sport. It occurred to him then that these life skills would be invaluable to the children and teens of the Kayamandi township and so decided to set up songo.info. The aim of the organisation was simple, to change lives through the power of sport. The program is based around cycling, first teaching kids between 5 and 14 years old to ride a BMX bike, and then progressing them to mountain biking when they’re a bit older (14 years onwards). The best part about it, is that it’s entirely centred around being an after school activity that runs from 15h00 to 17h00. He has also set up an education program with a teacher who helps the youths with their homework. The split groups mean that each rider does an hour of homework and an hour of riding, making it easier for them to keep up with their workload, as well as keep in tip top shape. All races are planned for the weekends, meaning that the kids never have to miss any school. He has also added a specialised training group for young girls, which focuses on the significance of being fit and healthy, but even more importantly, is how it encourages the girls to bond and has positive female influences through women role models such as Cherise Stander.
The program is open to any and all young people wanting to get involved. If they come to Songo, they are welcome to join, on the condition that they follow the organization’s strict rules. Rules that ensure that the kids stay out of trouble and stay focused on their school work, as well as the sport itself. It’s no small feat for Songo and his team, who are fully immersed in these children’s lives. Just as he was inspired and guided by his mentors and colleagues such as Elana Meyer, Christoph Sauser and the late Burry Stander, he too is the inspiration and a form of support for these young children, going as far as helping them resolve personal and family issues. All of these young people are learning that a healthy body equals a healthy mind, keeping them motivated and supported to achieve their dreams in life.
And if his social work wasn’t keeping him busy enough, Songo is also taking part in the mammoth Iron Man competition for the second time, taking place in Port Elizabeth in early April. Last year’s competition saw him learning to swim only 6 months prior to the competition – meaning that Songo is doing the race, complete with a 3.8 km swim, on only roughly 18 months worth of swimming experience under his belt. Almost immediately after Iron Man, he is jetting off to the UK to complete the London marathon. His determination is seemingly unstoppable.
Songo always ensures that he’s looking forward to the next thing that can effect major change in the lives of the children in Kayamandi. He has his mind set on finding funding for a swimming pool in the township, and hopes to teach children how to swim. This is not only a great form of exercise for them, but will prevent the high number of drownings that take place in the summer at beaches and dams nearby. Despite just celebrating the birth of his own daughter, he never shifts his attention from the youth development, and lives for them and their achievements. Be it raising funds for a pool, competing in marathons or even just learning to swim, Songo goes for it with his whole heart and is a true South African hero.