Precious Hlaka Empowering Her Community Through Sport

by | Jun 26, 2022

Life in the township can be brutal for young people, with teenage pregnancy, gangsterism, school dropouts and a myriad of other socio-economic challenges that befall most of South Africa’s youth. However, it is comforting to know that there are people who, using what they have, help build better communities with minimal support.

Precious Lebogang Hlaka is a co-founder of Youth Alive Sports Project – a non-profit organisation based in Diepsloot, Soweto, established in 2019. Growing up as the only child, bullied in her circles and with a single mother trying to make ends meet, Hlaka found comfort and a home in sports.

She teamed up with co-founder Joseph Molepo and Tamlyn Stevens to start Youth Alive Sports Project with the aim of supporting young people from the impoverished township.

From handing out sports bras and sanitary towels to young girls and creating sporting tournaments to give young people something to do that could spark a light that may one day light up the whole world.

Hlaka also hosts Health and Wellness Bootcamps for young girls and women to assist in equipping them with the necessary tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle with as little as possible.

Speaking with Lonwabo Nkohla, Hlaka reveals challenges working in underprivileged communities and how government can assist to make a positive change.

 

Tell us a little more about yourself.

I was born in Limpopo but raised in Diepsloot, Soweto. I am actively involved in the Diepsloot township. I use sport to encourage, to motivate, build and make an impact in my community. I realised that sport kept me away from a lot of things.

 

What inspired you to do all the work you do in your community?

Being raised by my single mother and as the only child I learned to stand up on my own. With my mom having to work crazy hours, I was often alone. I faced a lot of bullying, and to be able to deal with emotional, psychological challenges in my life, I made the sports field my friend. I got engaged in sports activities, that’s how I managed to deal with the loneliness and bullying. From my early life to being a teenager and up to now, it’s actually part of my inspiration to work in the community. In all the obstacles I’ve gone through, sport gave me a different view in life. Sport also gave me a larger family and friends, that’s why I use it to get more young people out of what they are going through and into a different world.

 

Tell us more about the work done by Youth Alive Sports Project.

Youth Alive is for empowerment. We realised that there are a lot of young active girls that go through so many challenges like I did. Some of them even worse. Seeing the impact sport has in my life, we decided to start a programme to get young girls fully involved and use the support from Youth Alive to face the various challenges in their lives. We organise sport events and tournaments for girls by girls. We also do motivational talks, deliver sports bras – one of the most key items, because it’s one of the toughest and expensive items for girls in my community to get. We also distribute sanitary towels and provide mentorship.

 

When were you guys established? And why did you find it necessary to create this organisation?

Youth Alive was established in 2019 by myself Precious Hlaka and Johannes Molepo, supported by a lady by the name Tamlyn Stevens. We found it necessary because we live in a very disadvantaged community with less resources and support and no activities. There’s a high rate of teenage pregnancy in our community, high rate of alcohol abuse within our youth and high rate of school dropouts and gangsterism. These issues get worse because there’s nothing else to do. And that’s why we created such a programme, a programme that will get them fully involved. The biggest mission is to get them involved in something that will make them a better version of themselves.

 

Coaching 4 different sporting codes – what are these sporting codes and what age groups do you coach?

I coach netball, soccer, athletics and cycling. I used to be a soccer player since primary school. Through soccer, I got introduced to running and got into a running club. I’ve also dabbled with netball, cycling and I competed at the SA Champs, running 10 000m on track and in cross country.

 

You also work with ladies in your community, hosting Health and Wellness sessions – tell us more about that.

I host Health and Wellness sessions for girls and women in the community. I used to see a lot of women jogging in the morning and that’s where I saw the need to assist. So the Wellness sessions are for the ladies that want to learn how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. What pushed me even more is that these ladies are often keen to learn but cannot afford gym and health and wellness centres. Whatever we do is completely free.

 

Working with kids from underprivileged backgrounds will inevitably also affect your own mental health – what are your own coping mechanisms?

I won’t lie, it gets really tough sometimes but I get the drive from each and every person I work with, forever so encouraging, they are always saying nice things and reminding me of the impact I make in their lives. That creates a positive mentality within me. But I also like to take some time out and reflect on the ups and downs and start planning for the future. Introspection is very important. It’s always good to pat yourself on the back and say “Yeah, I did that”.

 

What more can be done by government to help you as a volunteer in the community?

There needs to be funding that assists people that make an impact in township communities. Volunteering and working to change a community that is broken is not easy. We get insults, negative feedback and people discouraging us. That’s why I say such people need recognition, something to keep them going. It’s rare to get someone who’s doing something not to gain any financial return – just purely from the goodness of their heart.

 

What facilities and equipment are still needed to improve township sports?

In my community of Diepsloot, there are no facilities whatsoever especially for other sporting codes. Soccer is the only sport catered for. And I know this is a common challenge in most communities like Diepsloot.

 

Working with young people in underprivileged communities, we already know what they have to face but it is always worth highlighting, remind us of some of the challenges that these young people go through?

Child headed homes, poverty, getting necessities like toiletries can be an impossible task. Other kids face traumatising problems like sexual abuse and it’s not easy for them to speak out. I’ve created a relationship and a bond with the kids I work with and they are able to come to me and reveal some of the things they go through. It’s sad that there’s not much support for these young people. When they go to competitions, there are no parents to support them and psychologically that does affect them.

 

You work mostly with girls, what is your wish for these young ladies that you work with?

I want them to be powerfully focused on their goals, young girls that can stand their ground, young girls that will not allow any barrier to stop them from achieving their goals. They must know that they are never alone. I’d like to have more young people that so highly involved, flexible like Precious.

 

Your message and hope for the Youth during this Youth Month?

They are the next tomorrow and they need to remember that tomorrow is nothing without them there.

 

Photo 1 Caption: Co-founder of Youth Alive Sports Project Precious Hlaka is supporting the youth from impoverished areas to ensure that they receive necessary tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle and build a better future for their families. Photo: Supplied

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