The Homeless World Cup has a real impact in the lives of thousands of homeless people all year-long. Meet a few players for whom the motto "A ball can change the world" became a reality!
Always smiling and joking, Lukhanyo ‘Lukes’ Mjoka is much loved by the children he works with and respected by those who work with him. To meet him you would never guess that he is a reformed gangster, alcoholic and drug addict. Lukes personal journey has taken him from the poverty stricken townships around Cape Town to living on the streets of the Central Business District and then through his love of football to working as a volunteer with Oasis, a community development organisation working in Grassy Park and Homeless World Cup's partner in South Africa.
As a young boy, Lukes moved with his mother from the poor and rural Eastern Cape to the more prosperous Western Cape, but Lukes remembers very little about his mother as she spent long periods working away on farms. “I don’t remember even saying the word mommy” he said. Lukes’ grandmother, Marhadebe, looked after him, running a shebeen to make ends meet.
Lukes didn't attend school, but developed social skills and learned to count by interacting with the customers. His grandma would say that he was intelligent and there was no need for him to go to school. One day when on break he wandered down to the local train station, that day everything changed. On one of the platforms, Lukes discovered a wallet, which he showed to two older men. The two men took the wallet saying there is nothing of value in it, then told Lukes he should get on the train with them and come begging. Lukes was intrigued and so got on the train with the two men, a journey that was to take him to a life of the streets.
The train took Lukes from Khayelitsha to Mitchell’s Plain where his new acquaintances showed him how to beg for money, something that he quickly got the hang of. From October 1994 to January 1995, only nine years of age, Lukes slept each night rough on the streets. Grandma Marhadebe did not know if he was dead or alive. Eventually the men decided that Lukes was of no further value to them and dropped him off at a shelter called the Homestead.
Lukes stayed at the shelter and attended school quickly excelling and moving up through the grades. Lukes found that there was little to do at weekends and so he drifted back to the streets to beg and sleep, returning to the shelter from Monday to Friday. As Lukes grew older he left the Homestead in city centre and moved back to Khayelitsha in time to start High School.
Turning to drugs and crime
In 2003, Lukes' mother past away and he decided to go and live with his sisters, but the shack in which they lived in was not big enough for one, let alone two or more, so it was hard living with his sisters in such cramped conditions. Lukes eventually got his own shack which gave him and his sisters some space, but it was also to become another dark turning point in his life. Once his friends knew that Lukes had his own place they abused their friendship by using his home as a place to stash guns or drugs.
Lukes tried to stay as clear as he could from any illegal activity. He studied and passed a two year catering qualification and afterwards found himself a full time job. Back in his shack though friends would regularly stop by and bring alcohol with them. Lukes started to drink and was soon drinking heavily! "The drinking turned to girls, from girls we turned to guns and from guns turned to robbery”. Lukes lost his job and needing to make money was drawn by his friends into a life of crime. He now regrets this part of his life and says he did not like robbing people, but it was a means of survival. During this time Lukes witnessed several shootings.
Lukes started by abusing alcohol and had become a smoker, soon though he was smoking marijuana and taking pills. Next he was introduced to the highly addictive crystal meth or Tik as it is known locally. Lukes continued to smoke Tik for about three month before he decided that he needed to sell it as well.
Months later Lukes went to a known suppliers house far from his home and purchased 4kg of Tik. He was stopped by the police who searched him and found the drugs. The police confiscated the drugs without charge and then drove him to the train station where they put him on a train for Khayelitsha. This was one of two moments in Lukes' life where he believes that God intervened and saved him.
Turning life around
Back home in Khayelitsha, Lukes decided it was time to sort himself out and leave crime behind. The incident with the police affected Lukes and he knew it was time to think more positively about his life. Around the same time he bumped into a childhood friend called Tools, who told Lukes that he was volunteering with the Homeless Street Soccer Team. Lukes liked football so this was something that interested him. Tools informed Lukes of trials that were being held for the South African Homeless World Cup Team and Lukes decided this was something that he should try out for.
Soon afterwards, a close friend of Lukes called Thobela was shot in the spine leaving him paralyzed. This happened one night when Thobela was out with friends who were members of a gang that Lukes had been associated in the past, but was staying away from. Thobela became depressed and became dependent on drugs that lead to his death. The bullet may not have killed him, but it eventually claimed his life. This experience impacted on Lukes who decided he needed to focus hard on the soccer trials and get away from the violence and drugs. He found it hard to completely give up his addiction but he made himself a promise that if he could get onto the SA Homeless World Cup Team he would give up the drugs completely.
Lukes made it into the top 8 and was selected as Captain on the squad to fly out to Brazil for the Homeless World Cup. This gave Lukes the confidence and inspiration to turn his back on drugs and alcohol. Reflecting back on his past he looked at himself and said "if I can achieve this then others can too". After his return from Brazil, Lukes went to live and work at the Oasis Project in Grassy Park. He now goes into schools and teach both soccer and life skills to children as well as working on the SA Homeless Street Soccer programme.
Since traveling to Brazil Lukes has also been to Paris and to Mexico this year with the Homeless World Cup Team. His visit to Brazil inspired him and his dream is to open an foundation similar to Oasis there with a friend in Rio de Janeiro.
Lukes story shows that it does not matter how difficult your life circumstances are. With a positive attitude you can overcome the challenges life throws at you. If you commit yourself you can truly make something of yourself and a difference in the life's of others. From the township of Khayelitsha to the hills of Rio! Lukhanyo Lukes Mjoka is someone born from poverty destined to make a great impact on the life's of others.
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