Pocock eager to make his mark off the field

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MELBOURNE A child of evicted Zimbabwean farmers, David Pocock arrived in Australia with a few suitcases and a broken dream to play rugby for South Africa, a refugee from the violent and chaotic land grabs overseen by President Robert Mugabe at the turn of the century.

A decade on, the curly-haired 23-year-old delights in returning to the strife-torn country his family fled, where he helps develop poverty-stricken communities in which his exploits as Australia flanker are virtually unknown. The charity EightyTwenty Vision he founded with his friend Luke OKeefe in 2009 focuses on lifting living standards of two wards in Nkayi, a rural centre of some 120 000 people in western Zimbabwes Matabeleland North Province.

The communities, like many in landlocked Zimbabwe, have suffered under Mugabes tumultuous regime and remain vulnerable to food shortages, malnutrition and the spread of HIV. In the grand scheme of things, our work is very small, but the results weve seen so far are very encouraging, Pocock said in an interview.

On the ground things are beginning to improve for the community. Most noticeably, theres a sense that things are starting to happen and there is hope.

The community is starting to use its own initiative, whereas in the past, given the political and economic situation, it was very easy to feel there was not too much light at the end of the tunnel.

Pocock, born in Gweru, capital of neighbouring Midlands Province, remembers the turmoil of his last years in Zimbabwe vividly. The economic anarchy that saw white farmers evicted from their lands, often by marauding mobs claiming to be civil war victims demanding compensation, engulfed the Pocock family and led to the deaths of neighbours.

Our land was acquired by the government, said Pocock, who arrived in Brisbane at the age of 14, with his family, 10 or 12 suitcases and not much else.

Once we moved off the farm we lived in town for about a year, but really farming was our livelihood and mum and dad didnt really want to do anything else, so we decided to leave.

There were a couple of farmers in the area that were killed and I guess there was a lot of lawlessness, violence and intimidation. The vast majority was directed toward farm workers, but there were a few white farmers targeted. His father worked odd jobs to get the family back on their feet in Brisbane. Reuters