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Spencer (FCA) and Manda

The Partner

WhizzKids United

Through the medium of football, WhizzKids United operate a youth programme to facilitate healthy behaviour change. Their mission is to deliver effective HIV prevention, care, treatment and support to youth worldwide with an accessible, engaging approach. WhizzKids United is based in Durban, South Africa and is operated by Africaid, a registered charity in the United Kingdom.

WhizzKids United was developed in response to the staggering high numbers of HIV infection amongst youth in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. The HIV prevalence rate in KwaZulu-Natal is estimated at 16.5% with ante-natal clinics, in some areas, reporting prevalence rates above 60%. As a result, the prevalence rate contributes in making this province the epicentre of the HIV and AIDS crisis both nationally and globally.

The innovative programme recognises that football is the perfect teaching tool as it speaks a universal language that appeals to all children, both boys and girls, and transcends culture and background. It chiefly benefits the adolescents by teaching them life skills, helping them to develop their character and perceptions of gender roles as well as enhancing their knowledge about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. WhizzKids’ goal is to continue bringing football to life so they can develop the feet that will carry South Africa into the future. 

WhizzKids United

The Volunteer

Spencer (FCA) and Manda Name
Spencer (FCA) and Manda
WhizzKids United
Finance Director
Fed up with the placid retired lifestyle, Spencer and Manda Simmons embarked on an epic adventure across the world to South Africa, where they spent a year volunteering with WhizzKids United – a football focused charity that works to prevent HIV/AIDS in young people. Through the medium of football, WhizzKids United have provided life altering support and development for young people in South Africa. Using his financial expertise, Spencer worked as the Financial Director for the organisation, whilst his wife Manda supported them with their software update and got involved with the organisations programmes. Aside from amusing us all with his blog, we caught up with Spencer to see how the couple fared working together for a year in the South African heat.

1. What inspired you both to volunteer - are you normally the type of people that do this sort of thing?

I retired 5 years ago and got bored so decided to volunteer abroad. I persuaded Manda to leave her job and luckily AfID came up with the perfect fit. We have volunteered before, but nothing like this - one of our more frivolous bits of volunteering was looking after Pandas in China.

2. Which one of you first suggested that you volunteer together; did the other take some convincing?

My idea and I was shocked that Manda, who worked all the hours under the sun, was so easily persuaded to give up her job with a charity in London, especially as WhizzKids is a charity with strong football links. She hates football.

3. Did either of you have concerns about sharing this experience, as opposed to volunteering alone?

We have been married for 30 years but never worked together before. I think we both had a few concerns but in the end we worked in different rooms and I could tell Manda off for not completing paperwork without repercussions back in the house.

4. Can you tell us a little about your work and what a typical day looked like? Did you cross paths?

For 9 months our base was a 10 minute walk from home with trips 2-3 times a week an hour away in Edendale. The delays to the Football for Hope Centre meant we only moved in May and then drove each day a 100 mile round trip. Tiring. As I was the bookkeeper, management accountant, financial accountant and finance director wrapped together, my day was a mixture of dealing with petty cash, using the Sage accounting system, filing, producing project reports, preparing funding proposals, preparing funders reports and anything else thrown at me - when possible I also tutored accountancy as the kids do accountancy as part of their school work.

Manda was running a FIFA Sony photographic workshop twice a week for the youth at the Health Academy in Edendale. She was also leading the installation of a computerised monitoring and evaluation software package which required muck skyping to the software people and the need for 700 patient files to have data extracted and input so we could track such things changes in HIV indicators e.g. viral loads and also  how many people are using our services. We only crossed paths when Manda needed money for the kids travel stipends.

5. When you weren’t working, what were your favourite moments/ experiences?
Much too many to single out one or two. The blog is your best source for comic moments but probably my favourite moment was seeing the poster in the window of a furniture shop in Edendale township advertising ' Buy a bed and stand a chance to win 1 of 6 cows'. We wondered how if we won we would get it through customs!!! 

We went to the beach, the warm Indian Ocean, theatre, films and restaurants but mainly nature reserves and game reserves. Over the years we have become amateur bird watchers. We saw about 350 different types of bird as well as all the animals you would ever want to see. Manda has taken a lot of photos and the blog shows just a few. We also had 4 sets of visitors who we showed around and went away with. Plus a 2,500 mile road trip to the Cape and a long weekend in Cape Town. Oh and we also spent time with brilliant fellow volunteers. All old enough to be our kids so we were surrogate 'Mum and Dad'. SA has a huge cultural mix - White English speaking, White Afrikaans, Indian, Zulu, Xhosa etc. but we managed to get a taste of all the cultures.

6. How did you adapt to local life? (Do you have any funny stories?)

We have been to Africa before so no rude shocks. SA has the veneer of Europe but underneath it is definitely Africa. The cost of living is so cheap for us, e.g. petrol half the price of the UK and we had a 20% improvement in the exchange rate during the year. We love our food and ate a big range of things as a huge plate of freshly slaughtered cow and pap with a swarm of flies as company at a Zulu funeral service. Bunny Chow - basically extremely hot curry in a hollowed out loaf of bread, Boerowurst sausage on an Afrikaans farm, superb fillet steaks (dirt cheap £5) in lovely Durban restaurants and chicken and pap from the hospital tuck shop. Yes, you will notice that the South Africans do like their meat but occasionally they do have vegetables. One major issue is to have patience which is not always easy coming from London. Time works differently in Africa - much slower and with little urgency.

7. How did it compare to more traditional holidays you’ve shared together in the past?

We did work very hard (no really we did!!!). We also spent a lot of time travelling and having an amazing time. Kwa Zulu Natal alone has hundreds of miles of wonderful sandy beaches, Zulu and Boer battlefields to explore, the Drakensburg Mountains, gorges and a ton of game parks and nature reserves. We crammed in more holiday stuff in one year than many people will have in a lifetime. We normally go on weird holidays so have travelled to many places and we’re definitely not beach or cruise people.

8. What would you say were the advantages of volunteering with a friend or partner? Are there any downsides?

A massive advantage of volunteering with a friend or partner is to have someone to bounce issues off whether work related or otherwise. Literally a problem shared is a problem halved. Being so close all the time could also bring problems as you are close at work and at home so it can be claustrophobic, but in our case 30 years married and knowing each other’s foibles helped hugely.

9. How do you feel your work made a difference to the organisation?

In my case they had no proper bookkeeper/accountant in place and were very behind in their accounts from all sorts of view e.g.; no VAT returns prepared for 16 months - all refunds, so the cash flow was poor. I got everything up to date, installed a new software package, prepared a finance manual and most importantly recruited a local person to do the job. The fact that he is a Zulu is a big bonus for me because we needed to get the right person in and someone who can easily connect with the majority of the staff whose first language is Zulu. Out of many people who applied he was clearly the best man for the job and is proving so. Manda ran a successful photographic course which also worked on improving the kids’ English and she had reached an advanced stage in the successful completion of the M&E software project. Plus as older and more experienced volunteers we provided a useful sounding board for the CEO and management.

10. Do you have any tips to give other couples thinking of volunteering together?

Basically it is vital you both want to do it. Have some similar interests and realise that where you will be is nothing like home. Have patience in abundance. Immerse yourself in the work and the culture and when you get home life in the UK will seem very dull.

11. Perhaps most importantly, did you enjoy the experience and would you consider volunteering again?

The best overall year of our lives excluding one offs like the birth of our kids. Manda would go off again tomorrow as she has no work to comeback to so she’ll be bored. I would like a few months to see friends and family plus some golf, football, cycling and other interests. Looks like AfID will have another journey to organise.