Former track coach spoke as delegate in South Africa

Published 11:45 pm Friday, October 26, 2012



Longtime West St. John track and field coach Martin Sylvain was recently selected as a delegate to attend the 2012 Durban Business and Health Fair in Durban, South Africa.

Sylvain recently returned from the trip, which saw him overseas from Sept. 18-25

Sylvain retired from coaching track and field two years ago and currently teaches at West St. John Elementary.

 Other delegates from the New Orleans region who participated included Dr. Cory Hebert, Chief Medical Editor for WDSU-TV, NBC affiliate, Hearst/Argyle Inc. and Founder of, and Chef Kenneth Temple.

“I would like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for being selected by the International Arts Foundation. I was selected from an impressive list of other candidates who applied,” said Sylvain.

Sylvain described how on his first day he found himself in a motorcade of dignitaries and the King of South Africa. That same evening they were hosted at a red carpet affair where all of the delegates from 23 countries were presented. The next day the delegates were honorary guests in the Heritage Parade, where all of the South African tribes gave tribute to their histories.

One of the main focuses of the trip was health and physical education.

“I had an opportunity to speak to various individuals in the school system,” Sylvain said, noting one of the main topics was child-hood obesity and establishing health & physical education programs.

“What was really astounding was that most schools did not have physical education equipment. I found that obesity was more prevalent in Durban where it is more industrialized and has fast-food restaurants compared to the more rural areas.”

Sylvain spent time with the deputy mayor of Zimbabwe, who requested that he help him in securing physical education equipment, books and other necessities. “

We are blessed in the USA. We have so much. This is a great country,” said Sylvain.

After spending time with Hebert in South Africa and learning that he recently launched a site,, Sylvain said that he realized Hebert would be “a phenomenal speaker” at West St. John Elementary School.

“This is important because I have a number of students in my health & physical education classes that are either diabetic, borderline diabetic, or hypertensive.  Therefore, efforts are being made to secure dates in November for him to speak to the student body and any interested parents,” Sylvain said.

Sylvain visited what is called a ‘squatters camp’ where people have no running water, electricity or sewerage. This is one of the poorer sections of South Africa. Essentially, the homes are built by the inhabitants from any waste material that they are able to find.

He had the opportunity to visit the Mahatma Gandhi Museum where Gandhi’s original home and printing press is still located.

Upon leaving Durban, he flew to Johannesburg. Sylvain spent time with one of the school teachers and interviewed several students.

“These kids have the desire to learn and learned early on to respect all authority,” said Sylvain. “They were so attentive. When asked about discipline problems, they said there are no discipline problems. They have no buses; so, all students must walk to school. In addition, lunch is not served at school so a brown-bag lunch from home is the standard.

“I really want to thank God for such an opportunity to be selected as a delegate to South Africa representing the New Orleans region.

“This trip has opened the door for many opportunities that I will be pursuing in the future. “