SEATTLE — Growing up in a one-room shack in the Soweto suburb outside Johannesburg, Thulani Madondo aspired to be an example of success in his community. He was ardent about the value of education, but his mother could not afford supplies for him or his seven siblings. As a result, Madondo financed his own studies by washing cars, guiding tours and stocking shelves, becoming the first in his family to finish university.
Unfortunately, most of the children in Soweto do not have this kind of happy ending. Soweto has 80 percent unemployment. Inspired by a desire to change the outlook for his community, Madondo co-founded the Kliptown Youth Program in 2007 and is now living out that dream.
The Kliptown Youth Program educates children in a smaller region within Soweto, known as Kliptown. The organization began with the primary mission of tutoring students in order to prepare them to take matriculation exams needed to enter college and has since expanded to include any student aged from six to 20.
Six days a week, kids arrive at 7 a.m. for a full school day which includes two meals for those without food. At 2 p.m. they participate in extracurricular activities ranging from soccer leagues or a world-travelling band to a ‘roots and shoots’ program about gardening and food hygiene. Finally, at 4 p.m. students return for homework, tutoring, and computer literacy training.
Madondo believes that offering a variety of activities instills the hope and talent to be successful after graduation. Many children have found personal hobbies in the new computer lab and the growing library collection. Furthermore, the organization brings in networking professionals to assist students who wish to enter the workforce or give back to their communities in other ways.
Uniforms, books, and the range of activities offered at Kliptown amount to about $700 per student every year. However, Madondo is committed to providing all of these services for free on the condition that students agree to a mandatory attendance policy. The initiative remains funded entirely by donation and has occasionally arranged small university scholarships for desperate children hoping to enroll in college.
To date, the Kliptown Youth Program has helped about 430 students, boasting 23 alumni who have since graduated from local universities. An additional 97 have moved on to apprenticeships, while a few dozen others rejoined the project staff as teachers for new students.
Hoping to help his organization with future growth, Madondo is pursuing education once again at Harvard University studying Nonprofit Management. In Kliptown alone, thousands of children await the opportunity to be able to join the program and access all that education has to offer.
– Zack Machuga