South African Youth Serving the Poor
It’s winter in South Africa, and poverty-stricken residents are struggling particularly hard this year—especially children and the elderly. Rather than stand by idly, a young man with the spirit of Don Bosco has rallied 14 of his peers to assist some of their most vulnerable neighbors in Soweto.
Nhlanhla is a member of the Salesian Youth Ministry team at Bosco Youth Center in the Walkerville area of Johannesburg. The economic effects of the global pandemic have hit particularly hard throughout the city and its surrounding townships. Some children lack warm blankets to fend off the cold. Many older adults are sleeping on the floors of structurally unsound shacks with holes in the roofs.
“Where do they find the strength they need to overcome this?” Nhlanhla recently asked himself. And almost immediately, he answered his own question. Two months after Johannesburg’s lockdown began—when people were becoming increasingly desperate—this compassionate and resourceful young man launched a pop-up soup kitchen and began collecting blankets and warm clothing to distribute to those in need.
In the early morning hours each Sunday, Nhlanhla and 14 of his like-minded friends gather to prepare vegetable soup, corn porridge, bread and other warm, nutritious items. They rely mostly upon their own modest funds to purchase the ingredients, though several local individuals have provided donations as well. This tenacious band of youth has already fed more than 3,000 hungry people in Soweto and they show no signs of stopping.
“This call to serve—this selfless generosity—embodies everything Don Bosco stood for, and reflects the values our missionaries strive to teach to youth who participate in our programs around the world,” says Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “Some of these youth have very little themselves, yet they understand their responsibility to the greater good. It warms my heart to witness such positive examples of Salesian education in action.”
In addition to their ongoing community feeding program, Nhlanhla and his friends have organized a clothing drive for those in need, collecting sweatpants, jerseys, long-sleeved vests, jackets, shoes, socks and pajamas for children and adults. They also hope to source and distribute warm blankets and personal hygiene supplies to help the area’s most vulnerable children and adults weather the worst of the winter.
“Nhlanhla is a truly inspiring young man, together with his team of youth,” says Brother Clarence Watts, delegate for social communication of the Southern Africa Vice-Province. “He has brought the Salesian spirit of generosity and kindness to the poorest of the poor. Don Bosco would be very proud of him.”
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