And the 33-year-old is making sure that other young kids in Gelvandale now have the opportunity to enjoy the same success story through the Alviro Petersen Foundation, which celebrated its first birthday at a fundraising dinner at Randpark Golf Club this week.
It was an elite gathering of three excellent Test opening batsmen in Petersen, Barry Richards and Chris Gayle.
The West Indian has always shown an acute appreciation for the fact that his job as a sportsman is to entertain and he certainly did that in his own inimitable Caribbean style.
But beyond the often raucous humour lay the serious business of changing lives, which the Foundation is certainly already doing.
Their efforts have so far focused on four schools in the northern suburbs of Port Elizabeth – Fontein Primary School, Otto du Plessis and Gelvandale high schools and St Thomas School. Apart from donating cricket kit, the Foundation have also made arrangements for two-dozen children to have their school fees paid and they have contracted Second Chance to deliver substance abuse and life skills programmes.
Petersen himself spoke with great meaning and passion to the couple of hundred supporters and friends of his foundation at the dinner.
“I was a young boy growing up in a poor community, raised by a single mother after my parents split when I was two. It was a community rife with drugs, alcohol and gangsterism and it was never going to be likely that I was going to get to where I am today,” he said.
“But South Africa is a country of the unlikely and when I was eight I said I wanted to play for South Africa. When I was 18, I hopped on a bus for a 20-hour trip to Pretoria, where I had a small contract with a club,” Petersen recalled of his humble beginnings.
“It’s been one year since our launch and we’ve been very busy. We’ve done so much already, but there’s so much more to do. You can find potential in every person and we just want to make sure kids get an adequate education and it’s safe for them to play. Women and children must be safe from abuse and we’re going to focus on that in 2015.
“There are kids who drop out of school because of circumstances beyond their control and we hope we can make their dreams come true as well,” Petersen said.
Perhaps the pick of the stories told, however, was of Ashton Frodsham, a Grade 7 pupil at Beaulieu Prep School, who raised R15 000 in two weeks for KES lightning strike victim Mpheto Bidili and then donated R10 000 to the Alviro Petersen Foundation to buy cricket kit, having asked for donations rather than presents for his 13th birthday.
It is rare that someone who is still active at international level – and is surely also focused on dealing with the pressure to keep his place – is already giving back to such an extent. Having survived all the early blows that life dished up to him, it is a further mark of Petersen’s character.
For cricketing wisdom, the dinner had Richards, who in his day was up there with Gayle when it came to destroying bowling attacks. The former opening batsman turned commentator said he was puzzled by AB de Villiers not batting higher up the order for South Africa and was concerned about the Proteas’ suspect death bowling.