Ex-con-turned-coun­sel­lor is turn­ing pupils’ lives around

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - JA­NIS KIN­N­EAR

WHEN his sickly mother, in tears, re­fused to speak to him ever again af­ter his ar­rest for rob­bery, a Philippi young­ster vowed to give up his life of gang­ster­ism and drugs.

Telling his story this week in the coun­selling room at Intseben­ziswano Se­nior Se­condary School in Philippi, the Grade 10 pupil gets tear­ful.

He says he was only in Grade 5 when he joined the Vatoslo­cos gang, known more com­monly as the “VLs”.

“I was pres­sured by friends of mine who were al­ready in­volved in the gang and I smoked drugs like tik and dagga.

“We also robbed So­mali shops and peo­ple, even stab­bing them,” he said, cov­er­ing his face with his hands.

But that’s a long way be­hind the boy to­day, thanks to his school coun­sel­lor and ex-con­vict Syd­ney Hoho, 47, who has worked with trou­bled young­sters at the school since 2008.

Hoho, an in­mate at Brand­vlei prison for 12 years af­ter be­ing im­pris­oned for pos­ses­sion of an il­le­gal firearm and at­tempted house­break­ing, knows too well how early in­volve­ment with gangs and crime can wreck your life.

He dropped out of school in Grade 11 be­cause he couldn’t af­ford to stay, and soon got in­volved in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties.

“I was caught with an Uzi ma­chine gun and got sen­tenced to 20 years and six months jail time.”

But he used the ex­pe­ri­ence to turn his life around, join­ing a prison rights group and start­ing to coach soc­cer.

“My turn­ing point came when a guy from Ger­many came to train us in med­i­ta­tion… to look at your­self from within. He also taught us about fam­ily and com­mu­nity is­sues.”

Hoho started his own pro­gramme – Save Us – and be­gan work­ing with young­sters be­hind bars.

“I tried to get them out of gang­ster­ism and a life of crime, and mo­ti­vate and en­cour­age them. At the end I helped them to rec­on­cile with their fam­i­lies. Some of the boys grew up not know­ing the love be­tween a mother and son,” he said this week.

He also worked in con­flict res­o­lu­tion in the prison ahead of his re­lease in 2006.

For the next nine months Hoho worked as as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor through the Make SA Safe project, an of­fender rein­te­gra­tion pro­gramme. When the fund­ing was pulled, the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Author­ity ap­proached him about con­tin­u­ing his work in schools.

Thanks to fund­ing from NGO New Be­gin­nings, Hoho now runs pro­grammes at Intseben­ziswano Se­nior Se­condary School.

And the Grade 10 pupil is just one of his suc­cess sto­ries.

Through his one-on-one ses­sions with Hoho, he said, he re­alised the er­ror of his ways and be­gan the process of re­pair­ing his re­la­tion­ship with his mother.

ja­nis.kin­n­ear@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: LEON LESTRADE

SAVIOUR: Syd­ney Hoho is help­ing trou­bled schoolkids.

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