Taking on the world one hoop at a time

2014-11-06 00:00

RYAN Douwie would never have dreamt of leaving his childhood home in Sydenham and one day taking to the skies —but basketball opened up doors he had never imagined.

Now 34-years-old, Douwie is the marketing manager of PeacePlayers International, an NPO that uses basketball to uplift and integrate people from disadvantaged backgrounds while flying planes in his spare time — a long way from his humble beginnings.

Douwie (34) lived with his grandparents and attended Bechet Secondary school while his mother gave her life to teaching to help support the family.

“Like most coloured communities, people never really move out and stay with each other. It was what it was and I never thought I would leave,” Douwie recalls. But his life took an unexpected turn in Grade 7, when one of his friends brought a basketball to school.

“At first I asked him if he was crazy, everyone played football. Little did I know that the sport would end up changing my life.”

Douwie and his friends began playing in the local park, shooting hoops through volleyball posts until they managed to get proper basketball hoops and nets put up.

His love for the sport grew and it was only matched by his dream to take to the skies and fly a plane.

“In high school I was selected to play ball for Kwa-Zulu Natal. It was great and I put a lot of time into it. It also helped keep me off the streets. It’s a sad thing to say, but some of my friends passed away and others got into drugs — basketball saved me from that.”

Upon finishing matric, Douwie went on to study a marketing diploma at Natal Tech while playing for their basketball team. The side were hugely successful in the national league and travelled around the country to play in tournaments.

“I was living a good life with my friends who helped me out — they were from privileged backgrounds. I ended up travelling to Zambia and that was sparked my love for travel.

“Coming from Sydenham, leaving the country was a far-fetched dream.”

Despite his good fortune, Douwie never lost sight of his roots and realised he needed to give back to the community and show people that sport had the potential to change their lives.

“I was at a training camp in second year and met Sean Tuohey who had come over to SA from America. He had an idea for a development programme that involved underprivileged schools playing basketball.”

Douwie helped Tuohey set up the programme in Durban that involved four schools and PeacePlayers International was born. Tuohey had set up a similar programme in Ireland in 2001 with his brother in the wake of serious sectarian violence that had gripped the country.

Today PeacePlayers uses basketball as a tool to develop skills in underprivileged areas and bring people together who previously would not mix.

Douwie’s work in helping setup the programme in South Africa saw him become an intergral part of the operation.

“Besides my job as marketing manager, I coach three days a week at Addington Primary which I really enjoy. It really is a full-time job and responsibility; I basically wear six different caps with all the work I do.”

Above and beyond his work at PeacePlayers, Douwie is an aspiring young pilot and has already earned his Private Pilot License. He hopes to earn his commercial license and fly for South African Airways one day.

Difficulties of becoming a pilot:

Douwie has been flying for two-and-a-half years but admits it has been a rollercoaster ride. Despite the joy flying brings him, he struggles to get enough time to clock up hours required to eventually be hired as a pilot.

“When I first went to Virginia Airport to get a quote for flying lessons I nearly had a heart-attack. It costs around R380 000 to get a commercial pilot’s license, not to mention the hours required to get a full-time job.”

Douwie’s love of travel:

Over the past 10 years, Douwie has travelled to England, Ireland and the U.S. after his first trip out of the country to Zambia in 2000. He also credits PeacePlayers for giving him an opportunity to see the world. He lived in Ireland while working at their PeacePlayers programme for two-and-a-half years.

Chasing your dreams:

Douwie believes that people can always make something of themselves, no matter what their circumstances are. “From where I came from, I never thought I would be able to fly. That is why I am an advocate for sport — it taught me that nothing but hard work will get you what you want.”

Importance of PeacePlayers:

PeacePlayers in Durban works with 15 primary schools within five communities including Waterloo, Durban City, Molweni, Umlazi, Lamont-ville and Wentworth. There are currently 500 parti-cipants in the programme.

It starts with a primary school programme, then moves onto the leadership development programme at high school level. Once pupils finish matric, the top participants are offered a spot in the professional development programme.

“PeacePlayers interventions mean the world to our participants and for almost all, many firsts would take place here. For example, first out of community travel, first interracial experience, first time on an airplane and so on,” said Douwie.

“Many of our past participants have gone on to complete university, work for the department of sports and recreation and many become employed by PeacePlayers as youth coaches and mentors.”

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