Against all odds

De­spite his poor back­ground, he dared to be dif­fer­ent and is help­ing his com­mu­nity

Move! - - CONTENTS - By Atha­bile Mrasi

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.

BAD SIT­U­A­TION

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.”

BE­YOND FAM­ILY

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

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