Sunlight streams in from the windows, reflecting on my laptop screen. The sound of children’s voices echoing from an adjoining room fills my ears. “Can you hear me?”
I am on a virtual call with Thulani Madondo, co-Founder and Executive Director of the Kliptown Youth Program which is located in the neighborhood of Soweto, South Africa and is visited by our guests on select Africa Safaris & Wildlife Cruise itineraries. From more than 7,000 miles away, I can feel Thulani’s pride and joy shine through my small computer screen.
Though he was born with very little in the very town where he now works to break the cycle of poverty, you would never know it. Just one week prior I had felt the force of Thulani’s firm handshake and squinted in the bright glow of his gracious personality as he visited AmaWaterways’ corporate headquarters in Calabasas, California. This was a man who was named one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes from a pool of 45,000 nominees within 100 countries across the globe. I was in the presence of greatness – and still am as I nervously review my questions for him one by one.
Thulani tells me that Kliptown Youth Program is a nonprofit that was founded in 2007 and today provides tutoring, school fee and uniform support, nutritious meals, online learning, a library and even extracurriculars such as performing arts and sports for the youth that live in the neighborhood – many in pieced together shacks. In a town of 44,000 people where three out of four adults are unemployed and live without basic services such as food, electricity and recreational facilities, this program is critical in providing hope for a better life for local children. “We needed to be a part of the solution for this community because we had seen a lot of young people losing hope each day,” says Thulani. “It was very painful to watch. We wanted to be the generation that was going to create change within the community.”
Connecting with AmaWaterways
Nine years after Kliptown Youth Program’s founding and four years after Thulani’s nomination for the CNN Heroes Award, he was fortunate enough to host AmaWaterways’ Product Manager for Africa, Todd Ney, who came to visit the community. “When we showed Todd the challenges in Kliptown and the work that we do here, he was very excited and motivated to bring all of AmaWaterways guests who visit Johannesburg to come and see us,” Thulani recalls.
Since then, guests on select Africa itineraries visiting Johannesburg are taken on a Kliptown community tour that later leads to the youth center, where they meet face to face with staff and learn more about the programs and activities there. “When they see people like us living under such harsh conditions in the 21st century, for many it becomes a shock,” Thulani explains. “However, the success stories of our program are really exciting, and we are so fortunate – many of the guests come here as visitors but leave as friends who support us in continuing our work.”
Since its founding more than 15 years ago, Kliptown Youth Program has helped more than 100 students from the community graduate from colleges and universities. In addition, they have assisted with many young adults obtaining their driver’s licenses. Most importantly, the program has created a haven for approximately 902 children every Monday through Thursday, providing them with two nutritious meals each day, as well as the support and guidance they need to succeed in school and in their lives beyond.
“We have young people that are now economically active, some of whom have helped move their families to better homes where there is water and electricity,” boasts Thulani. He and his staff have also created 22 full-time jobs within the organization, which has benefited their leadership as well.
“When we started, many of us lived in shacks with up to eight people in the same home, but most of us are now in much better living situations. We have created a point of reference for our children that it is possible to succeed,” explains Thulani. “When you come from a community like ours, at times you feel you don’t have control over your life. But when organizations like the Kliptown Youth Program create a platform for our young people to shine, then they take advantage of that – and that’s something that really makes us feel very humbled and proud.”
Love From the Other Side of the World
While Thulani and his staff are grateful to be visited and supported by our guests, they have also had the opportunity to travel around the world, sharing their mission. Without prompting, Thulani offered, “My favorite thing about Ama is your heart. When we had the privilege to come visit you in your US offices, everyone was so welcoming. We were given the 5-star VIP treatment. We are not always treated as special in other places around the world. We shall be forever grateful for that kind of hospitality.”
Meet Thulani and his staff at the Kliptown Youth Program in Soweto, South Africa when you join us on select Africa Safaris & Wildlife Cruises.
Written by Jenny Platt, Brand Manager