How a school holiday in Harare changed the life of a 14-year-old Domboshava boy

14-year-old Hillary Mharadzi is, by nature, a very shy boy. To him, human interaction appears burdensome. The connection he enjoys better, is that of his deft left foot and the soccer ball.

When the diminutive youngster, who stayed with his grandmother in Domboshava, went to Mbare for a school holiday during the Covid-19 induced lockdown in 2021, he simply wanted to take a break from school and see his mother and little sister.

Probably bored, Hillary decided to show up at a nearby ground where Inter Harare —a football academy based in Mbare —train. He stood at a distance watching others train, until one of the academy’s coaches Reuben Dauti invited him to play.

“He was shy at first but when we discovered that he has a very good left foot, we encouraged him to continue showing up for training,” recalls Dauti.

Hillary settled well. He was so good that he would train and play with the U-16s, even though he was still just 12 then.

But the best was yet to come for the youngster.

A scouting tournament organized by Young Warriors star Sébastien Summerfield, would be a turning point, not only in his promising football career, but life as a whole.

Hillary was named Player of the Tournament and Summerfield decided to help him further his career by moving him from Domboshava to Harare permanently, as well as paying for his school fees at Mbare High up to form 4, so that he could combine education and football hand-in-glove.

“The way I was introduced to Hillary was through the Mbare Tournament which I hosted in collaboration with Coach Reuben (Dauti) from Inter Harare Academy,” said Summerfield.

“I remember seeing Hillary at first, he was a very small boy. I even questioned what he was doing there playing with the U-16s. But he was the best player, he went on to win Player of the Tournament.

“So I was shocked and happy at the same time because he really had the best technique out of everyone, the skills, speed and everything,” added Summerfield.

The potential Hillary had encouraged Summerfield to help the youngster.

“I spoke to his mother and father, but unfortunately, he was living in Domboshava so I wasn’t really able to see a pathway for him to play football in Mbare.

“But through consultations with Coach Reuben and Mbare High School, we decided that if he could have education in Mbare and stay with his parents there, it would be better, that’s when I offered to pay for his school fees.

“The parents accepted. They were happy that their son would get an education and play football, which is something that he loves,” Summerfield added.

The unbreakable love Hillary has for football subdues his introversion.

“I feel good when I play football,” says Hillary, simply put.

“I started playing football when I was 7-years-old. I used to watch Lionel Messi play, that’s how I got motivated and started playing,” he recalls.

Locally, Hillary idolizes Tino Kadewere, and hopes to be like the Warriors star one day.

“I admirer Tino Kadewere, and I hope to be like him one day,” says Hillary, adding that Summerfield’s intervention can better the chances of realizing that dream.

Hillary’s mother Vivian Mharadzi details the true love story between her son and the game of football.

“He started playing the game when he was very little, I think he was still 7 years of age then. When they would play street football with a makeshift plastic ball, everyone wanted to be in the team he played in because that team always won,” recalled the mother.

Society usually pressures parents to force children to prioritize school and not football but Hillary’s mother says she supported her son’s talent regardless.

“I accepted that he is good and decided to support him in the best way I could. I stay here in Harare, while he stayed with his grandmother (my mother) in Domboshava, he came for the holidays and that is how his life changed,” she says.

Added the mother: “He didn’t know anyone here, but he just went to the nearby ground and that is where he met Coach Reuben.”

“To be honest I never expected my son’s life to change, I didn’t even expect that one day he would even go to school here in Harare, so Sébastien (Summerfield)’s intervention was key, and I’m so grateful to him,” she said.

For Summerfield, doing what he did for Hillary, as well another boy from Chitungwiza he intends to assist, is a selfless act aimed at developing the future of the local game.

“For me, there is only a few words to describe it —its our future,” said Summerfield.

Literally, that is the future of Zimbabwean football. All the players you see who have become professional footballers, they come from these areas. So we need to push it more by helping these youngsters,” he added.

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