South Africa leaves an indelible mark on Wilkshire

THE small black children lined up at the wall, some with paint brushes, others blowing their vuvuzelas.

Two of the bigger boys took black chalk and began tracing around Luke Wilkshire, who stood against the wall with his arms spread wide.

One of the girls, Dineo, thought that if it was good enough for Wilkshire it was good enough for her, and so she took a place against the wall where she, too, stood with her arms wide as the boys began to trace around her.

They will trace around all of them eventually, and they will colour the walls with paints and chalks and whatever other medium they want to decorate them, and with that the healing will begin.

It is Tuesday afternoon in Johannesburg, in a part of the city not featured on the tourist maps, and at a good-sized building called the Lefika La Phodiso, The Art Therapy Centre, 20 children head outside.

Minutes earlier a black van pulled up and out of it climbed Wilkshire, the Socceroo, and when the kids saw the box he was carrying the energy levels went up considerably.

It was a day off for the Socceroos, and while many of them stayed at their tourist lodge to recover, or meet family, Wilkshire packed his dad Mark and several others in the van and headed for the centre.

He had asked the FFA to find him some children.

And so next to him now was Dineo, who is 9, with big teeth that burst through her smile.

She lives with her grandmother and her aunt in a little shack in a squatter’s camp, the family so poor they cannot afford even a shanty. Her mother and father are dead, wasted away with HIV.

When the chalkline around Dineo is finished she dips a paintbrush in the container and comes up with a lump of paint and she begins to colour herself blue.

All of the children at Lefika La Phodiso suffer.

Earlier in the day, the wall was freshly painted with a white undercoat. Now, when the mural is finished, it will feature the silhouettes of every child there, over the flags of each nation of this World Cup, and in the middle will be the soccer player who went to visit them.

They will fill the silhouettes with the colours that tell their story.

“One of the benefits of art therapy is it is not about talking,” says Kylie Madge, an Australian volunteer working at the centre.

“When someone has experienced trauma they find it very difficult to express what has happened to them.

“Through the process of making art it allows them to express their emotions without talking about what happened.”

Kylie is from Brisbane, via Sydney, and has been in South Africa two years now.

When the mural is done she will begin talking to the children about their work. She will ask why they used this colour, or that colour, and what it means, and eventually it will take her to the pain the children suffer and how they can deal with that.

Right now, much of the work is being done in excitement.

Not all of the children knew Wilkshire when he first pulled up.

They just knew he was important, and then they saw the box he walked in with.

It was filled with vuvuzelas, soccer balls and shirts.

He began signing colour photos an FFA official had brought along.

One of the children saw it was Wilkshire, in a game with the ball at his feet, and his eyes grew large.

“That’s you!” he said.

A buzz went through the children, as they realised a real World Cup star was among them.

After they painted around him Wilkshire picked up a brush a painted in two purple eyes, and a big purple smile.

“Why’d you pick purple,” asked Kylie.

“My daughter’s name is Lila, which in Dutch means lilac,” he said.

Every colour means something.

On the other side of Wilksihire’s silhouette, 9-year-old Mamatoane is colouring her shape orange. One of nine children, she is being brought up by her 72-year-old grandmother.

All of these children are here because they are orphaned, or have been sexually abused, or are in dangerous environments where the predators can reach them.

Here, they are children again. And their great prize is a smile.

“We’re very lucky, and not just me being a professional footballer,” says Wilkshire.

“If you looked in Australia at the youth growing up compared to somewhere like this, the opportunities and support you get is greater, there’s no doubt about that.

“I always love to be around children. To come here and to see them smile, to laugh, it’s sometimes hard to put into words.”

He finished his own silhouette with a big red heart, and as the bigger boys coloured it brown he headed to the playground to kick a ball around with the younger kids.

One young boy, Muzi, kept darting in and around him with a ball, daring him to tackle him.

Muzi, 10, lives with his unemployed mother in low cost housing built after the fall of apartheid.

He has a black leather jacket, over which is a bright gold Nike T-shirt he has just plucked from Wilkshire’s box, tucked into his pants.

As Wilkshire played with Muzi and the others, taking a break from the pressure of a World Cup that is fast losing control, he gets the smiles that he went for.

This a world of people helping each other. His gift to them was that his offer was genuine. They sensed that.

In return he got smiles, and so their gift became his.

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