Ex-con-turned-counsellor is turning pupils’ lives around
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.
SAVIOUR: Sydney Hoho is helping troubled schoolkids.