Matt Regueiro has left the country more than most college freshmen, but none of his past experiences could have prepared him for his most recent excursion.
A 2013 graduate of Quaker Valley, Regueiro traveled to South Africa as a member of the soccer team at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. From May 12-27, the 23-man team traveled through South Africa, starting in Port Elizabeth and working its way up to Cape Town.
“I’ve been to Europe and South America, but this trip was so different than any trip I’ve ever been on,” Regueiro said. “I haven’t really seen this side of how people live.”
The focus of the trip was the two days spent at the Chris Campbell Field and Education center, a soccer facility in the poverty-stricken Khayelitsha district of Cape Town. The facility was built in 2008 in honor of Chris Campbell, a former Franklin and Marshall soccer player who died the day before his senior season started in 2007. This was the soccer team’s third trip to the facility since it was built, with plans to return every three years.
With the stadium located in one of the worst areas of the city for crime, a goal of the trip was to see the way the facility’s presence has impacted the surrounding community.
“We really got to see how poor and how rough their lives are but yet how happy they are,” Regueiro said. “The field gives them an avenue to get out of the harmful cycle. They say it’s a safe zone.”
There are currently more than 2,000 participants in various leagues held at the facility. A crime prevention league is held Friday nights for participants ages 18-25, the range with the highest crime rate in Khayelitsha. The Franklin and Marshall soccer team joined in for one of those Friday nights, playing with local athletes from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. in front of an unexpected crowd.
“Within two hours of us being there, there were people lining the fences at least two rows deep all the way around,” Regueiro said. “It was such a cool thing to see everyone flock, and the smile on their faces, with the extreme poverty they’ve been in.”
This year’s trip also placed an educational focus on the life of Nelson Mandela after the passing of the former South African President in December.
The team toured the prison on Robben Island where Mandela was held from 1964-1982. Regueiro and the rest of the players also spent an hour with Christo Brandt, the acting warden during Mandela’s imprisonment. He talked about their relationship and how Mandela became a sort of father figure to the then 18-year-old warden.
“That, along with just seeing the field and how it’s changed the community, were my two favorite parts of the trip,” Regueiro said. “People and places I never thought I’d see.”
The remainder of the trip was spent touring the western cape of South Africa and visiting a game reserve, but the experience in Cape Town left Regueiro thinking about nothing but when he can return.
“I wont be going with the team again. Every player gets a chance to go once,” Regueiro said. “But I was already talking to my parents about seeing if we could go back.”
Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].