Tackling social needs in embattled Zimbabwe

Tackling social needs in embattled Zimbabwe

But the drive and passion the 22-year-old displays on the field for the Western Force in Super Rugby and for the Australian national team is just as evident in his quest to alleviate inequality and poverty in Zimbabwe.

Pocock grew up in Zimbabwe, but when he was 14, his family moved to Brisbane, Australia, after their farm was seized during President Robert Mugabe’s land grabs, which saw white farmers forced from their land.

Several of the Pococks’ neighbours were attacked, and one was shot and killed during the traumatic period. Pocock says his family was among the lucky ones. It is understandable, then, that helping the underprivileged people of Zimbabwe has been the focus of Pocock’s charity, Eightytwenty Vision, which he set up with his friend Luke O’Keefe in January 2009.

The not-for-profit organisation helps fund community development projects in the rural area of Nkayi, about 160 km north of Bulawayo.

Basic needs

The projects focus on food and water security, health care for those with HIV or AIDS, education for children, improvements to hospital care for mothers, and human rights.

There is passion in his voice when he talks about the changes he hopes to see taking place in Nkayi, particularly around women’s and children’s rights and education.

Despite his ever-increasing rugby commitments, Pocock travels to Nkayi once a year and says that each time, it is a humbling experience.

Last September, he squeezed in a trip to Nkayi following Australia’s Tri-Nations campaign and before a tour of Europe.

By nature a shy person, he also enjoys the anonymity, as those he meets have no idea of his rugby fame.

“It’s quite embarrassing at times how people with so little will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable,” he added. “It’s quite special.”

Special is a word many people in rugby circles have used to describe Pocock’s talent. He was signed by the Western Force while still in school and made his Super Rugby debut in 2006, just days after turning 18.

But his career has really skyrocketed in the past couple of years. He made his Australia debut in 2008 and shared the Wallabies’ No 7 duties with the veteran George Smith until he retired at the end of 2009.

Last year, Pocock established himself as one of the best openside flankers in the world. His ability to win turnover ball at the breakdown rivals that of New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, who is widely acknowledged as being the master of that particular craft.

Pocock’s efforts earned him a plethora of awards, including the John Eales medal as the Australian Rugby Union’s player of the year.

“It was satisfying, but I’d much prefer to be playing in teams that are winning,” Pocock said. “You’d trade personal accolades for the team doing well.” “So that’s definitely something I’m really keen to do this year, to play in a Super 15 team that’s winning and obviously I’m pretty keen to win with the Wallabies.”

His playing time has been limited this year, however, because of a knee injury that he suffered just two games into the Western Force’s Super Rugby campaign.

It meant he missed a game last weekend against the New South Wales Waratahs that doubled as a fund-raiser for Eightytwenty Vision. While Pocock hopes to be back in action in three to four weeks, he admits it has been tough watching from the sidelines, particularly given the team’s poor run of results.

“For any player being out due to injury is very frustrating, and the Force haven’t been doing as well as we would have liked, so it makes it more frustrating,” he said.

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