The Ice Hockey Crew
In Nelson Mandela Bay, one of the world’s most dangerous metros, rife with gangsterism, and where schools close their doors owing to students turning on each other, a group of friends from SOS Children’s Village Port Elizabeth have found refuge in ice hockey.
Khaya* (12) and Pieter (13) live for Friday evenings when they get to practice with one of the local clubs in the city. The two boys have become friends on and off the ice and are often found together, strategizing about the next play or their future. 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 one year ago.
In 2018, one of the ice hockey clubs extended an invitation to SOS Children’s Villages 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 programme 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 family of origin, but going home is not always an option. The community that SOS Children’s Villages serve in Nelson Mandela Bay is the notorious Northern Suburbs, where gangs reign the streets and unemployment defines families’ fortunes. It is hard growing up here, 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 Daniels. “He’s had to change schools in the past and has a learning disability. He was fairly shy and usually sat somewhere drawing. In fact, I have a stunning drawing of him in his ice hockey gear in my office as a ‘thank you’. On the ice, he has such confidence and he is really good. He is fearless and will try new things and so he is learning faster than the others. And that confidence came home with him,” she says.
“My first time skating, I liked it but I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just running, running. But then I saw, oh ok, I can do it. I learnt by asking people, ‘Can you help me?’,” says Khaya. “On the ice, I am doing new stuff every time. But, the thing is, ice hockey is different for my culture because no one else does it. Only me, that I know. No other people out there do it in my culture, no one. And I like it and it’s all fun and nice,” he adds. “I’ll push my best, do whatever I can to win a star, to go on.”
Pieter’s brother left their SOS family and trying to fill the gap he felt, he made some poor choices and wrong friends. As the oldest of the ‘ice hockey crew’, he 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. We like skating, it’s fun. It keeps us busy and out of trouble and other bad influences,” says Pieter.
The two boys are holding on to each other on the ice. They are practising skating in reverse. 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 organised that they get an hour of skating before the Zamboni cleans the ice, an hour they would normally have to pay for. They are drenched after the hour and Daniels jokes that the car ride home will have “an interesting fragrance”. The children laugh and tease each other.
One of the deals between the SOS mothers and their four ice-hockey playing children is that they cannot practise 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. But, time on the ice is precious for the four children, they learn something new every week and missing a Friday skate means missing out on learning a new skill.
“One week, one of them did not do his chores and had to stay home,” says 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. They will help each other in order to ensure they all go, like the Musketeers,” she adds.