Rugby gives us many things. Not just the joy, comradery and excitement of our time on the pitch, but enduring lessons of discipline, self-confidence, community and resilience. At The Atlas Foundation, we use the spirit and values of rugby to give disadvantaged children and their communities the chance to thrive

The Women’s Barbarians joined The Atlas Foundation at Ocean View High School for a coaching day ahead of their South African test. Baabaas from eight nations took to a brand new field, built and equipped by Atlas, alongside learners from Ocean View and Masiphumelele High Schools. The Baabaas and kids shared skills, stories and an unexpected lesson in hurling from their Irish contingent.

Inspiring the next generation

Rolling off the bus, even the rain couldn’t dampen the excitement of the students, particularly the girls. These young women, growing up in patriarchal communities and embracing a historically male dominated sport, were exhilarated to spend some time with female rugby role models.

“Rugby has helped these girls find their voice. I’ve seen their confidence grow in leaps and bounds since they’ve been in the programme, giving the chaps a run for their money. Many of the girls and boys come from the harshest of harsh environments and rugby has empowered them. We’re giving them the skills to become leaders in their communities. They’re talking about the hope they have for the future,” commented Sue Anderson, Executive Director and Trustee of Atlas South Africa.

Sue has worked closely with local communities to provide lasting employment and development opportunities for coaches, as well as the opportunities for children in the programme. The ATLAS All Schools programme officially launched in South Africa in 2019. The model combats crime, inequality and discrimination, uplifting young people with rugby's values of resilience, honesty and self-reliance. Today they run programmes focused on education, health, girl empowerment and well-being across South Africa, Eswatini and Kenya, as well as supplying and overseeing an Atlas DigiBus (a coach fully equipped as a mobile classroom with computers and digital learning equipment in Langa).

The kids of Ocean View and Masiphumelele joined the crowd at the South Africa x Barbarians test game - roaring their approval at every show of skill.

“Watching that match left me profoundly inspired. The sheer determination and grit displayed by these athletes was nothing short of awe-inspiring. As they charged down the field, tackling opponents with unwavering resolve, it was evident that gender was no barrier to strength and skill…This experience reminded me that dedication and passion can break through any obstacles, empowering individuals to achieve greatness.” Tadiwanashe Kwendambairi, a student at Ocean View and a member of the Atlas programme.

A lasting impression

The experience clearly left a mark on both camps. The Barbarians’ cup was filled by both the coaching day and the support they experienced at the test match.

“It was amazing to share our passion for the sport that we love with children experiencing such hardship. And that’s the power of the sport right, particularly high level sport. For these athletes to share their stories, their knowledge, their passion with these kids and leave a legacy. That’s what the barbarian spirit is about, leaving a legacy beyond what happens on the pitch.” Patricia Garcia Rodriguez, Spanish international and Barbarians starting 12 for the South African test match.

“It was such a special experience for us to be welcomed with open arms to Ocean View School. The kids were so full of passion and pride for rugby. It was a real honour to help coach the session with them. Walking off the pitch on Saturday against South Africa and seeing them all literally jumping up and down, cheering us on, was a moment I will always treasure. Rugby really does unite and I am so grateful for opportunities like this to experience that first hand”, Lizzie Goulden, Barbarians starting 15 and try scorer for the South African test match.

“Visiting Ocean View was really inspiring, seeing so many young girls and boys with such passion for the game and a willingness to learn from others was amazing. Chatting with some of the girls and hearing about their rugby journey was one of my favourite parts of our trip to South Africa. The raw talent was unbelievable, no doubt we’ll see some of them on the world stage one day”, commented Beth Stafford, Barbarians starting 6 for the South African test match.

We’ll be watching out for graduates of The Atlas SA programme donning green and gold in a few years time!