David Pocock found time on his rugby sabbatical to cross paths with the Classic Wallabies and a school project making a difference in a small African village.
Pocock is on the home stretch of his time off and he and partner Emma have used much of their time in Africa to learn about conservation and help with community projects, working with Wild Ark and other conservation agencies, as well as spending time working on his grandfather's farm in Zimbabwe.
The 29-year-old recently visited Mphaku Primary School along with volunteers from the Classic Wallabies Indigenous Exchange Program, who are at the school for five weeks working on building an Eco Village for the students, along with Eco Children and conservation group, Impact South Africa.
The project involves building a vegetable garden for the students, so the school can provide one meal a day for the children.
“We've gone from digging foundations to putting the garden to throwing a rugby ball around, doing some passing and then a big game of soccer,” Pocock said.
“(It’s) an amazing project that the Classic Wallabies are involved with and the group of eight young Indigenous Australians over here for five weeks as part of a school-building community project but also personal development and leadership."
Pocock said the dedication of the school’s principal, Joyce Nxumalo, was being rewarded by the success of the program.
“She's just so passionate about this community and this school, so I think to have people coming all the way from Australia to show that they do care and they want to be involved is a huge lift for her in this school,” he said.
Nxumalo said providing her students with food was the only way to help them continue in their education.
“Most of the learners are from child-headed families - there are no parents, they depend on us as a school for feeding,” she said.
“Having a garden like this, it will make it easy for us to feed the learners and teaching and learning will be easy because (they have) a healthy mind and a healthy body.
“You can not teach a hungry child, so the learners will benefit a lot and they're also gaining a skill.”
Classic Wallabies team leader Kevin Yow Yeh said the children’s resilience was incredible.
“People are living on very little here but they're probably happier than a lot of people that I know back home,” he said.
“Their smiles are bigger than a lot of ours that grind 9-5 in a city.
“That's not to say there aren't real challenges here but they don't dwell on the negative ,they just try and do the best they can to move forward.”
Local community members have pitched in, including some student’s parents, in a bid to ensure the village’s children are fed adequately, with many living in adult-free households.
Codelia Mgobemi is the mother of a year one student at the school and said the program would give them life
“It is very important because they will benefit from this program whilst the vegetables are grown, they will be able to cook for them,” she said.
“While I'm at home I will not worry that, 'Oh, my child maybe is hungry now' because there will be food for them to eat.”
Pocock will return to rugby in August, playing for Top League side Panasonic, before returning to the Brumbies in 2018.