By: Zahid Jadwat
Having just moved to Lavender Hill, Cape Town, and overwhelmed by the stress that comes with being unemployed, it was only a matter of time before Mark Nicholson landed in the wrong company and started abusing drugs.
But that was more than 20 years ago. Today, Nicholson is fighting to protect the children of Lavender Hill from falling prey to the very same ill habits that nearly ruined his life. He keeps them busy with a football club, which he started when he identified a lack of guidance for the kids in his community.
“In 2001, when I stopped drugging, I looked at the kids and saw that the kids were so lost and there was no guidance [nor] leadership. That’s why I decided to open a soccer team with about 10 girls and boys. That’s where we started,” he told Radio Islam.
Despite the scepticism of some people in the community, Nicholson and a group recently secured a 10-year lease from the City of Cape Town to build an art and culture facility on the same “battlefield” grounds where he lost five family members to gang violence.
“The [Rise Above Development] RAD centre started about five years ago when a group of us came together and decided we wanted to turn this battlefield into a field of dreams for our children. People took it as a joke because how can you build a youth centre on a gang battlefield, but we knew that things like this were going to happen,” he said.
When asked about the kinds of challenges faced by kids in the community, Nicholson said: “The biggest challenges of the youth that we are working with is bad parenting, unemployment, drugs, gangs [and] violence”.
“The parents just don’t care about them,” he said, adding that child abuse is a common occurrence in the community. “They don’t realise how it affects the child’s mentality,” he said.
Listen to the full interview here: