Closing the distance: How her girls helped get her off the couch

Yonela – from Mbekweni/Paarl

Yonela used to be a “couch potato” — her words! The 17-year-old from Mbekweni, a township close to Cape Town, South Africa tells her story of how she got the courage to get off the couch, and how it rocked her world.

“I used to spend hours and hours in front of the TV, just doing nothing. At first I was just chubby but then I got big — too big for a girl my age!

The reason I stayed inside so much was because I was embarrassed about my funny legs. I had rickets (a childhood disease resulting from a lack of Vitamin D and/or calcium) when I was a kid so my legs bend outwards. The other kids teased me so I rather just stayed at home.

Six years ago the Mbekweni Community Sports Centre opened next to my school and I decided to check it out. At the centre I hooked up with WGILS (Women and Girls in Leadership through Sport — a programme run by SCORE).

At first I was shy but after a while I realised I could really trust these girls. I knew they wouldn’t tease me and whatever I told them wouldn’t leave our WGILS circle. It was the first time in my life I had friends like that, true friends who I could trust.

With the encouragement of WGILS (pronounced “We Girls”) I took up aerobics at the sports centre and the kilos began coming off.

I felt healthier, I ate better, I was more energetic and I gained confidence. Everything about me changed for the better.

It seems like such an easy thing: get off the couch and get active. But when you’re shy and embarrassed about your body the distance from the couch to the door is very, very long. My girls in the WGILS group helped me make that distance short.”