Brought up by a single mother in Bulawayo, Kudakwashe Mahachi has faced many challenges during his life. In an interview with FIFA.com, the Zimbabwe international spoke of how he has overcome these challenges and others obstacles to become one of his nation’s most decorated players.

Like many youngsters from challenging backgrounds, Mahachi's life could have followed a very different path had it not been for a chance encounter with Grassroot Soccer.

Grassroot Soccer was started by a group of former football professionals in Zimbabwe. It uses the power of football to educate, inspire, and mobilise at-risk youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, enjoy more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities.

One such at-risk youth was Mahachi, who fondly recalls being helped by the organisation. “When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was to play football,” he said. “I did not care about school or learning about life. These things did not mean much to me and my life could have taken a bad direction had it not been for Grassroot Soccer.

“Not only did they give me an opportunity to play football, more importantly, they enabled me to go to school, paid my fees and enabled me to participate in programmes in which I was taught about HIV/AIDS and other important things.”

Mahachi's home town of Bulawayo was one of the cities earmarked to house one of the 20 Football for Hope Centres that was one of the most important aspects of the legacy programme for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

Growing up in Bulawayo, Mahachi was such an avid learner and took to the programmes on offer to such an extent, that – whilst still a teenager – he was made an ambassador for Grassroot Soccer and was invited to travel to South Africa for the World Cup, where he met youth from other countries.

“I was also fortunate in that I was invited to participate in the Football for Hope Festival that was played in Cape Town in 2010. There were teams from all over Africa and it was a great experience.”

Although he was only 16, participating in these programmes and playing against teams from other African countries made him even more determined to become a professional footballer.

From Highlanders to South Africa
The winger played youth football for one of the biggest clubs in Zimbabwe, Highlanders, but then joined Bantu Rovers, which was founded by Methembe Ndlovu, who was also one of the co-founders of Grassroot Soccer.

Within a few months of playing for Rovers, Chicken Inn - another Bulawayo-based club - made him an offer he could not turn. After two seasons, Mahachi returned to the club of his youth and signed for Highlanders.

Again his stay was short-lived as big-spending Mamelodi Sundowns lured him to South Africa. He spent a season with the current African club champions before moving on to another PSL team, Golden Arrows.

“Although I enjoy playing for Arrows and the standard in South Africa is high, my dream is to play in Europe,” said Mahachi.

Mahachi's talents have also drawn the attention of the Zimbabwe national team and he was called up for the first time in 2013. A year later he was picked by national team coach Ian Gorowa to represent the country at the CAF Africa Nations Championship.

Earlier this year, Mahachi, now 23, was in the Warriors' squad that competed at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, scoring his side's opening goal in a 2-2 draw against Algeria.

“Playing in Gabon reminded me of the Football for Hope Festival,” Mahachi said. “Again there were many different countries and it was a wonderful experience. I will always be grateful for Grassroot Soccer for the chance that they have given me in life.”

Last year, the softly-spoken winger endured personal tragedy, when one of his two daughters passed away after a brain surgery. “Learning about different life skills helped me overcome this tragedy and I can only encourage others to participate in these programmes. It changed my whole life.”