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By Kaylie Flannigan
Amidst the roaring township of Soweto, a sprawling, mostly black community of four million people 17 miles from Johannesburg, one might be lucky to stumble across the oldest area: Kliptown, founded in 1891.
Today, it is crammed with houses made from scraps of wood, corrugated metal and plastic. It has an unemployment rate nearing 80 percent, high teen pregnancy and high rates of HIV and AIDS infections. At first glance it does not seem like much, yet the people in the community are a treat.
When we arrived, two small children under the age of five excitedly ran up and grasped the hands of my classmates. They were very comfortable and trusting with strangers and everyone in the township community. Before we left they walked in circles, hugging everyone they could get their hands around.
Thulani Madondo greeted us upon arrival and showed us his Kliptown Youth Project (KYP), an after-school program that incorporates tutoring, food, technology, performing arts, and sports for the children of the town. The mentors focus on educating and empowering youth to alleviate poverty.
KYP consists of a few grey colored buildings that were occupied by Catholic nuns until 2006, before they left and gave it over for the good of the community. There are classrooms, a kitchen, and a small playground near a soccer turf.
In 2012, Madondo was nominated as one of the top CNN Heroes, a program that each year recognizes 10 people around the world who have made outstanding contributions to their communities. He was given a $50,000 grant to continue his work with Kliptown youth. It was used to purchase equipment for the computer lab to teach children how to use technology as a tool for solving problems. They are also supported by a family foundation in Boston, among other donors, but their operating funds will run out by the end of this year, he said.
KYP also helped to get nine students to the University of Johannesburg this year, as well as send numerous school kids to class with a lunch they would not have otherwise had.
Madondo said there were many the conflicts with running an organization like this in the township where he was raised. In a world dominated by materialism, it is hard to fight such extreme poverty with a staff paid barely enough to get by. And it was hard for us to to see such great passion and such a large heart in someone unable to make a decent living himself.
This program has encouraged more than 400 Kliptown youth to dream and embrace their potential. Madondo says he teaches young people to "do what [they] can with what [they] have." This message rings true throughout the town and continues to support those chasing their dreams.