Jerome Fredericks – a lecturer in the division of Occupational Therapy – will never forget the day a friend asked him if he wanted to play volleyball. It was a day that effectively turned his life around.
“I was standing on a street corner in Paarl, begging for money. I came from a broken family. My parents got divorced when I was three. I lived with my grandparents and we lived in very poor socio-economic circumstances," Fredericks said.
“I was an angry and unhappy child. I'd once dreamt of being a professor but my mother laughed at me when I told her, saying it was not possible. I believed her. She laughed at my dreams.
“I started hanging out with gang friends and dreamt of becoming a gangster. I started dreaming of getting a number and becoming a gang leader."
It was amidst these circumstances that his friend invited him to the volleyball court.
“That one day changed my life. I became hooked on volleyball. I immediately started playing as often as I could. I started getting into a routine of practicing a few times a week. At weekends we had matches. I started taking care of myself and I learnt life skills like commitment and discipline. I started looking at my spiritual life. I met new mentors and new friends with different belief systems. I had less time for negative activities. I lost all my gangster friends and started doing well at school!"
It is this dramatic turnaround in his life – which saw him end up as the head boy and top student at the Paulus Joubert High School in Paarl – as well as being selected for the under 19 SA volleyball team that sparked Fredericks' passion to use sport to bring about social change.
He has become a popular keynote speaker at community events and has been interviewed on radio about his advocacy work in this field. Most recently he was interviewed on Radio KC in Paarl and on Paarl FM.
While he works as a lecturer in the Division of Occupational Therapy, where he has been for 12 years, Fredericks is also closely involved in rugby, soccer and athletics clubs in the Paarl area where he has always lived. He also consults to a number of other clubs. “We offer a venue and coaching to young people. I bring with me my knowledge on the occupational sciences from the university.
“There is such a thing as occupational deprivation. This means that some youngsters don't have opportunities or resources to participate in sport. Part of my job is to advocate for the municipality to provide the facilities so they can practice."
During the sports sessions, the children are also given a range of important life skills as well as being taught values.
“I believe strongly that children can learn values through being involved in sport," said Fredericks.
“Many of the children we work with at the clubs come from broken families and poor environments and many have been involved in gangster or criminal activities or are addicted to substances. I've been through everything they are going through so I understand. A number of them have no sense of belonging and no positive role models or mentors. The saddest thing is that many of them don't experience a lot of love in their lives and have big rejection issues. They often sit with emotions inside them and are really angry because there is nobody there to care for them.
“At the sports club we reach out to them on a number of levels. We have coaches who teach them to play sports, but we also try and meet some of their emotional needs. We look at their physiological needs so they get opportunities to practice and also to channel their frustrations. We also look at their safety. We speak to them about the danger of being involved in gang activities and drug and alcohol abuse. We also talk to them about engaging with the wrong friends and about walking around late at night.
“We also make sure that we show them love and a sense of belonging and hope while they are with us.
“The young people who come to our clubs know that they can say, 'coach, I have this problem. They know there's a lifeline for them."
Turning to the trajectory of his own life, Fredericks continued: “After school, there was no money for me to go to university. I took a step in faith and enrolled for OT at university with no money. I did well … and from there onwards I got scholarships to study."
Today, Fredericks focuses in his work primarily on the role of occupational therapy in physical disabilities. His research focus is on comprehensive rehabilitation for people with lower limb amputations. He is also involved in a number of research projects.
In his spare time, when not working at university or at the sports clubs, he gets involved in public speaking at schools, churches or at organised breakfasts and teas in communities whenever he can. He and his wife sometimes go to farm areas with their pastor to work with farm children on the same issues. “We talk about sport but also about values and spiritual things. I use sport as the medium to spread my message to young people on how they can use the values we learn from sport to become better people and to improve our circumstances. I hope it helps these children like it helped me all these years ago."
Caption: Jerome Fredericks.
Photo credit: Damien Schumann