South Africa – February 6 2020

SOS children's lives transformed by ice hockey

In Nelson Mandela Bay, one of the world’s most dangerous cities rife with gangsterism, a group of friends from SOS Children’s Villages has found refuge in ice hockey.

Khaya*, 12, and Pieter*, 13 live for Friday evenings when they get to practice with one of the local hockey clubs in the city. The two boys have become friends on and off the ice.

The talented Khaya intends on playing ice hockey for South Africa and super-fast Pieter wants to become a national ice hockey coach. According to those in the know, these two are completely different children compared to a year ago.

In 2018, an ice hockey club extended an invitation to SOS Children’s Villages South Africa for four children to sign up for practice and gear – free of charge – if they could get to the ice rink every Friday evening. Amanda Daniels, SOS program development coordinator, decided that the opportunity was too good to pass up, especially for children who do not go home for holidays, or who struggle a bit to fit in – whether at school or in the community the SOS families live in.

Home visits during school holidays are necessary to encourage and maintain a bond between children in SOS family care and their biological family, but going home is not always an option. The community that SOS Children’s Villages serves in Nelson Mandela Bay is the notorious Northern Suburbs, where gangs reign the streets and unemployment defines families’ fortunes. It is a difficult place to grow up and options are few. Children in family care deserve every fighting chance.

Three boys and one girl under the age of 13 made the ice hockey cut: Khaya, his brother Jack*, Pieter and Denise*.

But there is something about Khaya on the ice, says Ms. Daniels. “On the ice he has such confidence and he is really good,” she says. “He is fearless, and will try new things and so he is learning faster than the others. And that confidence came home with him.”

Khaya admits learning to play hockey was tough at the start. “My first time skating, I liked it but I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just running, running,” he says. “But then I saw, oh ok, I can do it. I learnt by asking people, ‘Can you help me?’”

“On the ice I am doing new stuff every time,” Khaya adds. “But the thing is, ice hockey is different for my culture because no one else does it. Only me that I know of. But I like it. I push my best do whatever I can to win a star.”

Pieter’s brother left their SOS family and made some poor choices and wrong friends. As the oldest of the ‘ice hockey crew,’ Pieter knows very well how close he came to “getting in trouble” and that ice hockey is his way out. “We get to express ourselves on the ice. It keeps us busy and out of trouble and other bad influences,” says Pieter.

The two boys are holding on to each other practicing skating backwards. First Pieter leads, then Khaya. Denise is copying a figure skater and Jack is lost in his own world, skating up and down the length of the rink. There is a big match later and the coach organized it so that they get an hour of skating before the Zamboni cleans the ice: an hour they would normally have to pay for.

One of the deals between the SOS mothers and their four ice hockey playing children is that they cannot practice if homework is not done. They also need to do their chores before they can grab their kit and run to the pick-up spot.

“One week, one of them did not do his chores and had to stay home,” says Ms. Daniels. “The other three did not speak to me once on the way to the ice rink. They did not believe we meant the deal. It never happened again."

*Names changed for privacy 

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