The goal of Vuka rugby is to keep children off the streets and out of trouble. The programme offers a fun, rewarding and educational alternative through the use of rugby, aiming to create positive and lasting changes in their lives.
The project is run in co-operation with Cool To Be Me, an organisation which helps to develop the life skills of children involved.
“The majority of these boys have never been to a match” - Lungelo Payi
Lungelo Payi, Vuka Rugby coach, arrived at the meeting point an hour early that day. Driving down the makeshift road in the Masiphumelele Township, Payi could hear a familiar sound of his young players signing in unison.
“Before our matches, the boys get in the zone by singing and dancing together. It gets them ready to go out and compete as a team,” says Payi. On this occasion, the youngsters weren’t getting set to play or train, they were preparing to take their first trip to Newlands Stadium, to watch their Springbok heroes playing against a World XV outfit.
“We also had people in the township asking what was going on, were they playing a game? People enjoyed seeing the boys in strong voices and it’s a big day as the majority of these boys have never been to a match. It’s a big for a boy from a shack in the township.”
A visit from their heroes
Three days earlier, Springbok centurion and Laureus Ambassador Bryan Habana had visited the young Vuka players, participating in a training session and offering some hints and tips to the aspiring youngsters.
“These young people are the real heroes of our sport,” said Habana. “Speaking with the youngsters, hearing how they have used rugby as a tool for change in their life, it’s inspirational and it’s what Laureus is all about.”
Habana and Brits engaged with the youngsters, throwing the ball about with them and watching in awe as the Vuka players displayed their handling skills, throwing dummy and reverse passes.
“We encourage the boys to express themselves, there are no limits,” says Payi. “As long as they catch the rugby ball and move forward, that’s all we ask for. We give them guidelines according to the rules of the game and then it’s up to the boys.”
“Rugby is a way of changing lives”
Vuka Rugby coach Xolani Mahulo, 24, from Masiphumelele gave his thoughts on the impact says: “Having the Springboks in our community, inspiring our young players and then giving them the chance to watch them live is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I think it’s going to encourage them.”
“Rugby is a way of changing lives. Because of the game itself, you have opportunities if you don’t use them you’re going to lose. In life there are challenges and opportunities so it’s clear to them that you have to use the opportunity once you get it. Grab it and focus on it, focus on the positives.”
“It’s a stepping stone for these young boys to see that the Springboks aren’t living on another planet, that if they work hard and follow their dreams, they can achieve things in life.”
Mascot for the day
For one young player in particular, who spent the day showing off his silky skills to Bryan Habana on Thursday, was lucky enough to run out alongside his Springbok heroes as mascot for their match against the World XV.
“I don’t want him to stay there, or to think there is no more to life” - Xolani
11 year old Lindokuhle, from Masiphumelele, couldn’t hide his smile as he looked forward to meeting the team: “I’m so excited, I can’t wait to see the captain and the other players and I don’t know how to explain how excited I am. My dream is to play scrum half for the Springboks and I’m getting close to my dreams having the chance to walk beside them.”
Xolani says: “We selected Lindokuhle because we want to give him a boost and motivate him to follow his dreams. He lives in a small shack in the township in a room with five other young kids. No running water or electricity. I don’t want him to stay there, or to think there is no more to life, I want him to explore more, see the world. He usually plays barefoot but we’ve found him some boots to run out with the Springboks in.”
“I hope this experience will inspire Lindokuhle and the other boys to show them what they can achieve, that there are no limits to their dreams.”
Looking across the sports field in Masiphumelele, which is filled with aspiring young rugby players, Xolani says: “Laureus means a lot to me. Now I’m a leader, I have the chance to influence young people in a positive way. As Nelson Mandela said, through sports, we can change lives.”