Against all odds
Despite his poor background, he dared to be different and is helping his community
GROWING up in poverty and being raised by illiterate parents never stopped Solomon Nkhumeleni (54) from achieving his goals. He is now a property owner, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and dentist. He has also taken it upon himself to improve the lives of his community at Tshitereke village in Venda, Limpopo, by helping them find ways to escape poverty.
NOT SO EASY CHILDHOOD
Having being born in difficult circumstances where his parents could not read or write; Solomon was forced to learn literacy skills at a very young age.
He says his parents could not even understand what his school report card meant and that when his father worked far away from home, they could not even communicate with him because no one knew how to write a letter.
“My dad was a migrant labourer and we could not go to his workplace. It was only after I was able to read and write while in Grade 1 that we started communicating with him,” he says. “With my writing and good marks I got a prize in Grade 2; that was a good motivation for me.”
Cold winter seasons knew Solomon’s feet very well; he went bare-foot to school and with an empty stomach at times.
This happened until he reached his ninth grade and had to attend high school wearing short pants while other pupils wore long pants.
His bad situation made him stand out from the crowd; because of that he dared himself to become different. His ambition of getting out of poverty and desire to help his sick sister landed him at medical school.
“I remember that most of the time we had no food at home. I also didn’t have shoes until I was doing Grade 9. My dad used to buy old clothes for us. Since I didn’t know what pyjamas were, I used to wear them on the playing field. I only realised during my varsity days that I was actually wearing pyjamas but my friends thought I was cool,” says Solomon.
Every time Solomon goes back to his village, he gathers the children around and gives them presents to celebrate their great school report cards as a sign of passing wisdom and motivating them.
He says he spends about R3 000 in groceries for the event and invites the parents to cook for the kids while they assess the reports.
He says he started doing this project 10 years ago for his own family members, but after he saw how it worked out, he then decided to take it to his community.
“When I was in school, I did not have anyone to monitor my school work. It was hard and I had to work really hard. I am lucky I got out of that situation but I am worried about the kids in my community who might not escape poverty,” he says.
“I cannot help their parents, but I can sure help the kids. They need motivation, and someone who will instill a new positive mindset. Anyone can do what I do. I buy lunch for the children and ask their parents to cook for them. Probably it’s the best meal they ever have until I come back again.”
Apart from giving gifts, Solomon built about 22 classrooms for schools in his community and also provided books for a library they never had.
“I went beyond my family. I went back to my community because I believe I owe them something. In my old high school, they complained about not having a library. Remember, they stay in a community where vehicles cannot reach. So I sent five trucks filled with books and we managed to donate 10 000 books. I am happy because they have a library,” shares Solomon.
“I was really hurt when I saw that nothing has changed and the children were still studying under the trees. With the help of a charity organisation through my friend, we built the 22 classrooms and eight boreholes because there was no water.”
AT HIS LOWEST
One of the things that challenged him the most was losing his family. He says he had to choose between going back to poverty and losing his family.
“I worked so hard, long hours trying to get things done and I never really had time for my family. As a result, my wife left me. I married again and I know how to look after my family because of the sacrifices I made,” he says.
“I believe in making the children ambitious and learning from my failures. I don’t give up. That is what I want other people to do.”
I’M WORRIED ABOUT THE KIDS WHO MIGHT NOT ESCAPE POVERTY
Entrepreneur Solomon Nkhumeleni (INSET) is part of a panel (ABOVE) that assesses school report cards so that top achievers can be honoured
Women prepare meals to celebrate the achievements of their children in Tshitereke village in Venda, Limpopo