April 17, 2013
“When I was growing up I didn’t have sport opportunities, or parents to watch me play. I was a girl being told I’m not allowed, that I have to be at home to cook. I wanted to change that. I didn’t want to go back to that.”
Nasiphi Khafu doesn’t believe in settling for what life forces on you.
She is talking to us just yards away from FC Barcelona’s legendary Camp Nou stadium, meeting people from the worldwide family of Laureus charity sports projects. She has just welcomed all of them, over 100 people, with stories of her love of sport. She wears a joyous grin from ear to ear.
Considering the struggle she faced in childhood to work to where she is today, that smile is particularly welcome.
Last year Nasiphi was one of the first graduates from the Laureus YES Programme. Standing for Youth Empowerment through Sports, the programme aims to train the next generation of young leaders with the skills to teach others the valuable life lessons sport can offer.
It is a subject the young South African has come to feel deeply about.
Nasiphi was born 25 years ago in South Africa and, raised by her grandparents, she openly considers her early life as not altogether conventional.
“My mum had me when she was very young. She was always working. She was more like my sister,” she says, maintaining a smile throughout our chat despite the personal issues she broaches.
Her grandparents, she explains, were the ones who instilled in her a deep sense of “values, of principles.” Values, it becomes clear, that helped to define what she wanted to achieve in life over what she saw happening to other young women around her.
“People I grew up with, most of them have kids now. Kids 13 years old would get married to older men, just because they felt that’s the only option they have because of the terrible poverty in their lives. Few of us managed to make it to university.
“I wanted the life I saw on TV. I wanted to have that. I once said to my mum ‘I will finish my matric [final high school qualification in South Africa] without a child. I will go to university and graduate.”
But university must have seemed a long way away for the young girl from Cabazana Village in the Eastern Cape. She recalls with typical charm: “I had to walk 10 kilometres to get to school. But it didn’t matter! We were kids and it was all we ever knew. That was happiness for us.”
Now 25, she proudly details the journey that not only saw her get to university but graduate as well.
“I don’t know how I did it. I had to work 2, 3 jobs throughout my studies… often going to sleep without food.
“I knew if I didn’t … I’d go straight back to poverty. I couldn’t afford to fail.”
It was there at the Durban University of Technology, studying for her degree in sports management, she also started playing basketball full time, something that proved to change the course of her life.
“Sport is family. When you play, you have no strangers. Everyone has a common goal… I remember when everything [bad] was going on in my life, the only thing that made me feel better was a basketball in my hand. It was my world.
“Sport has a way of making you feel better, even when you fall. You get up, dust yourself off. Sport is life; everything that happens on the field is what happens off the field.”
This belief in the power of sport to promote the life lessons of team work, fair play and respect is one Nasiphi shares with every Laureus project across the world. And it’s now her wish to pass this on to other young people as well.
“I want to be a sport for change agent,” she says, clearly proud of the title she has coined herself. “Laureus is the ultimate in changing the world through sport and that world is the one I want to get involved in, changing lives countrywide, worldwide, through sport.”
This week, Laureus welcomes a further 40 remarkable young people to follow in Nasiphi’s footsteps as they embark on the second intake of Laureus YES programme participants in South Africa.
Welcoming them there will be Nasiphi herself. And as the excited group of 40 youngsters start their training, they really could have no greater source of inspiration than her.