Seabelo Senatla and Jaco Coetzee honoured seven-year-old Vihano Bester as part of the Vodacom Tries for Smiles campaign on Wednesday.
Bester was born with a facial deformity but after undergoing specialised reconstructive surgery, he is now able to smile for the first time in his young life, thanks to the efforts of the Stormers players as well as all the other South African Super Rugby players.
Through the Vodacom Tries for Smiles campaign, the Vodacom Foundation donated R3,000 for every try scored by a South African team in this year’s Super Rugby competition to The Smile Foundation. The funds raised through Tries4Smiles helps the foundation to perform corrective surgeries on children born with facial anomalies. This gives children such as Vihano the precious ability to smile beautifully and have the confidence to live his best life.
SARugbymag.co.za accompanied Senatla and Coetzee to the Oklahoma Street Primary School in Macassar in Cape Town, just outside Somerset West. The players shared cake and soft drinks with the kids and chatted with them about their school life and their sport, as well as presenting Bester with a Stormers jersey and a rugby ball.
Senatla highlighted the importance of inspiring local communities and giving them a sense of hope for their future.
‘It’s amazing to be a part of something like this – it gets me every time,’ Senatla said. ‘I understand what it is – it’s a message of hope, and that’s what we all need to go forward in life.
‘It’s important for kids to know that they’re not a product of their environment, you’re a product of your choices and if you make the right choices every time then you will become what you want to be. For us being here, that’s what we want to do – we want to reiterate the fact that you are a product of your choices.’
Coetzee was also moved by the experience and delighted in the opportunity to share time with Bester and his classmates.
‘To come here and see each kid with a massive smile on their face, it changes everything,’ said Coetzee. ‘It opens up your eyes to see how they live. When you think that you’re struggling, it’s actually not that bad. It’s amazing to see how happy they are. Every try we score we can literally change someone’s life.
‘This foundation can help a lot of kids around South Africa and I think more and more people should participate in this. It’s a lovely experience to be a part of helping to change a child’s life,’ added Coetzee.
Janus Kloppers, principal specialist of sponsorship at Vodacom, highlighted the difficulties children with disabilities face.
‘Children with facial deformities are often ostracised and their parents have long journeys to assist their children both physically and emotionally,’ Kloppers said. ‘We are fortunate as Vodacom to have been a part of bringing about a positive change in the lives of children like Vihano through this campaign.’
Smile Foundation CEO Hedley Lewis echoed Kloppers’ sentiments.
‘Smile Foundation is privileged to have the backing of Vodacom in this incredible initiative. We are eternally grateful to Vodacom and the DHL Stormers for making a child’s dream come true. This school visit is profound as it creates awareness in the communities and alleviates the stigma of children living with facial conditions.’
The Bester family were excited to be part of the celebrations and were overcome with emotion watching their little star being the focus of attention, surrounded by his classmates and the two players.
Senatla concluded with a positive message for the kids.
‘My message would be to dream big. When you come from an environment like this it’s very difficult for you to think you can go up beyond what you see in everyday life. Have a dream and have a vision and once you have that you have planted the seed. If you can’t see it, you won’t be it, so dream big, not small – anyone can do it,’ smiled Senatla.