Former Trinidad and Tobago captain Daren Ganga had a life-changing experience in 1999 during the West Indies tour of South Africa.
Ganga made his Test debut for the regional side against South Africa in December 1998, and on his 20th birthday on January 14 the following year, he received a phone call from then South African president Nelson Mandela.
Yesterday, at a press conference held in Johannesburg, Ganga shared the story of his brief interaction with Mandela, and presented a token of appreciation to the Nelson Mandela Foundation—a cap that was part of the official West Indies uniform during that tour to South Africa.
Of the phone call from Mandela, Ganga said: "President Mandela congratulated me as the youngest member of the West Indies team on tour and went on to say how very happy he was to see our team, and welcomed us to his country.
"He reiterated that this tour was especially important for the people of South Africa as they have followed the exploits of our team and drew great inspiration and hope from it. He offered words of encouragement to me in terms of my career, and said that I was a role model to young people everywhere," Ganga added.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that phone call changed my life," he said.
Since then, Ganga said he took a keen interest in mentoring young people.
He said that when he was captain of the Trinidad and Tobago cricket team, he strived to motivate his teammates, encourage them and impart the lessons he learned throughout his career.
Though he is no longer T&T captain, he said he still found joy in the successes of the T&T cricketers who achieved international success.
"I can only hope that my captaincy was a positive influence on them over the years," he said.
Ganga sought to assist young people off the cricket field through the establishment of the Daren Ganga Foundation (DGF), whose purpose is to mentor young people and motivate and inspire them to realise their full potential, and to support their development through financial assistance, coaching and scholarship programmes.
Ganga also shared two lessons he learned from his interaction with Mandela.
"The first is, where you are now doesn't determine where you will be in the future. If President Mandela had given up while imprisoned, believing he would never be freed, where would this country be today?" he asked.
"With this in mind, I determined very early on that my humble beginnings would never restrict my progress and prevent me from achieving my dreams," he said."Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have learned to appreciate the value of each human being, to honour each person's dignity, and to recognise that we are all equal, and equally fallible," he said.
"It is our duty to treat each other with respect, kindness and love; this, President Mandela has demonstrated during his lifetime, even in circumstances where most human beings would lash out in anger and hate; he maintained this noble disposition, and never answered racism with racism.
"I believe you would all agree with me that this world would be an entirely better place, if each of us would commit to showing such humility and respect for other human beings," said Ganga.