Seven years ago, a 14-year-old boy from Kayamandi walked all the way to his mother’s employer’s house in central Stellenbosch with one goal in mind – to enrol at a school of excellence focused on training young soccer players.
Today, 21-year-old Okuhle Tose is in the United Kingdom, after having flown across the world to participate in a sports internship with Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles, living proof that with the right support anyone can change their destiny.
Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles is a social enterprise and charitable trust working on behalf of the Wigan Council in Greater Manchester, Selby District Council in Yorkshire, and Cannock Chase Council in Staffordshire.
“I really want to thank all the people who supported me, from my family to Renske Minnaar; Rory Antrobus, who paid for my studies and part of this internship; my lecturers Hendré Smit and Anemé Crafford-Lazarus at Boland College; my athletics coaches Johan and Marinda Fourie; my tutors Beth Smart and Catherine O’Reilly; and my school teachers, especially Michael Mlonyeni, at Kayamandi High. Without them, I would not be where I am today.
“They were the ones who made sure that I got all the opportunities that came my way, and that I was able to make use of those opportunities as well,” said Okuhle when he jetted off to London in May.
Okuhle is particularly grateful to Peter (Pete) Burt, the managing director of Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles and his UK programme leader, who helped make the internship possible. Pete met Okuhle through Renske and her partner, Ken Fussell, in 2013.
“I was instantly struck by his charm and determination to succeed in sport and leisure, so when Renske asked me about the possibility of an internship, I was more than happy to help,” explains Pete. “Okuhle’s story has inspired us all and his first few weeks here have proved to be a fantastic life and learning experience for him too.
“He has also, as hoped, had a big impact on our teams here and the young people engaged in our business, who in time will understand and appreciate the challenges young people face in South Africa to achieve their aspirations.
“I really believe that Okuhle’s stay in the UK will equip him with a fantastic range of life skills, some great technical skills within leisure and a whole range of experiences which I am sure will help him pursue a long-term career in leisure when he returns home.”
Since arriving in the UK, Okuhle has been involved in a number of activities, including working with the Wigan Warriors Rugby League Club to support schools in Wigan through the Wigan Warriors Community Foundation and engaging with community members in under-represented areas who benefit from the trust’s programmes. Okuhle has also shared his own story of overcoming challenges in under-resourced communities.
Thanks to Inspiring healthy Lifestyles, Okuhle has also learnt to swim, windsurf, and climb at the trust’s Haigh Woodland Park High Ropes course, and has even driven a powerboat.
This experience is far removed from the life he knew in Kayamandi in 2010, where poverty and a lack of resources rob many youngsters of an opportunity to live up to their true potential.
This nearly became Okuhle’s fate too, when the 14-year-old Kyamandi High pupil found himself unable to gain access to the soccer school of his dreams, and battling to pass maths.
Renske knew the only way she could help Okuhle at that point was to get him proper academic support to make a success of his schooling and further his studies.
“It wasn’t that Okuhle was not capable,” says Renske, who has since become his guardian. “He merely needed the right support. At poor, under-resourced schools like Kayamandi High, classes are usually packed and teachers are unable to give learners who are struggling individual support. This is unfortunately the reality in poor areas.”
She found him tutors in maths and English, who also taught him general home work planning skills.
Next, she reached out to Rory, a local businessman, who agreed to pay for Okuhle’s tertiary education studies. The gaps Renske covered from her own household budget.
In 2014 Okuhle completed his matric with a 70 percent pass rate and university exemption, and enrolled for the City and Guilds’ International Sport Management Diploma at Boland College.
When not concentrating on his studies, he played soccer for the college team, and focused on his athletics career as a middle distance track athlete under the guidance of Johan Fourie, an Olympic Gold medallist middle long distance athlete and coach.
From 2009 to 2013 he was an 800m and 1500m track athlete for the Boland and SA Schools Teams, and won many gold, silver and bronze medals in that period, later also completing cross country events. After completing his studies, Okuhle worked at Wild Peacock in Plankenburg in Stellenbosch, while searching for a position in his field.
By February 2017, he was offered the overseas internship but in March, as he was getting ready to leave for the UK, he was attacked in his own home by an unknown assailant, stabbed in the head and left with an arm fracture above his wrist.
“I thought this was the end of my career, but Renske supported me and told me to hold on and to remember that no matter what, that I would get to go to the United Kingdom,” he said.
Thanks to Rory, who stepped in by reaching out to his friend biokineticist Phil Nel, Okuhle was able to undergo physiotherapy sessions to heal faster. That gesture, and his own inner strength, says Okuhle, is what got him through all the hospital check-ups.
Today he is working with the outdoor adventure team and the community team at Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles and for the next four months he will learn a variety of new skills, including how to assist with the sports training camps offered to learners attending Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles’ programmes and how to work with and provide assistance to people with disabilities participating in sport.
“I believe this internship will give me the experience I need to one day start a sports development programme and provide sports coaching in my community too.”
For Okuhle’s mother Amelia and aunt Selina, who are well aware of the obstacles Okuhle faced on a daily basis in pursuing his dreams, this internship is a godsend.