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Thulani Madondo,Youth Program Offer Hope in South African Township

Brian Munyai has spent nearly all of his 22 years living in a small metal shack that has never had electricity or running water.

He shares a pit latrine with his neighbors. He bathes in a bucket with water drawn from the communal tap. At night, he reads by an oil lamp.

Conditions like this are typical for the nearly 40,000 people who live in Kliptown, a district in the largely black township of Soweto, South Africa. Generations of families have lived in these ramshackle homes just 15 miles from Johannesburg, the economic capital of the country.

The community has long suffered from high rates of unemployment, crime and school dropouts and the end of apartheid, more than two decades ago, did little to change the situation.

“Living in Kliptown … I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” Munyai said. “We are simply trying to survive.”

Raised by his aunt, who often struggled to find work, Munyai found basic necessities like food and clothing difficult to come by. But although his circumstances didn’t make it easy, he was determined to get an education.

“I spent a lot of time without a school uniform,” he said, recalling the embarrassment he felt being different from classmates from middle-class neighborhoods. “Going to school with a hungry stomach … it was very tough.”

Munyai worked hard, however, and in high school, he heard about the Kliptown Youth Program. The after-school program, commonly known as KYP, provided him with intensive tutoring that helped him pass his senior exams and find funding to attend the University of Johannesburg. He recently earned a national diploma in banking.

“This program actually changed my future,” Munyai said. “(Without it), right now, I would not be standing here and saying that I went to university.”

Stories like this motivate Thulani Madondo, the director and co-founder of KYP. A lifelong Kliptown resident, he has a goal of helping people like Munyai change their lives and their community through education.

Right now, Madondo’s group provides academic support, meals and after-school activities to 400 children.

“There are more than 10,000 children in the community, so working with 400 might seem like nothing,” Madondo said. “But if (they) are dedicated … we can make a difference.”

Madondo, 30, grew up in a family of nine and faced many of the same struggles Munyai endured. Financial pressure forced all of his older siblings to drop out of high school. But Madondo washed cars and worked as a stock boy to earn money to stay in school, and he became the first member of his family to graduate from high school.

Ultimately, he couldn’t afford to go to college, which was a disappointment.

“It was hard. … You feel like you have no power over your future,” Madondo said.

It’s that mentality that Madondo and several other young Kliptown natives were looking to change when they founded the program five years ago. Rather than wait for the government to come to the rescue, they decided to take matters into their own hands.

“We didn’t want to see other young people going through what we’d gone through: no uniforms … feeling hungry in class,” Madondo said. “We know the problems of this community, but we also know the solutions”…

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