Thabang Sikwambane’s vision for what he wanted to do with his life, and for his nation and continent, was very clear when he decided to give up his life as an investment banker in London eight years ago. But despite that moment of clarity, he could not have foreseen how it would all pan out.
With a business partner, he set up Kaelo, a successful health and wellness company with a particular focus on HIV/Aids.
But it was not enough for Sikwambane’s desire to make a change in his home country.
It took a trip off the beaten path to the village of GaDikgale, his mother’s birthplace, to realise that there were more tangible problems than just how the money men and women of the developing world perceived Africa.
An invitation by Kgoshi Solly and mmaKgoshi Clara Dikgale to visit their village and see how he and his company could contribute to efforts by villagers to take care of children left vulnerable and orphaned by various factors, including HIV/Aids, opened Sikwambane’s eyes to the harsh realities of what children had to contend with.
It was in GaDikgale that he met young Sello Moloto, and where his life radically changed. The child minder at the facility where little Sello was suggested that the little girl be left to learn to take care of herself.
The result was the Lonely Road Foundation, the charity organisation that seeks to positively intervene in the lives of vulnerable children. The name is a reminder of how children who live in vulnerable circumstances navigate their lives.
The foundation, which runs projects in GaDikgale, Limpopo; and in Lokaleng, North West, does not only want to spare children from the ravages of want but to make youngsters know their potential regardless of the station they start their lives from.
When Sello died after being run over by a car while crossing a road alone, how did this affect you?
I don’t have kids of my own but I imagined how it would be like if it was my child, at that age, being asked to take care of herself. I had to do something to help. Maybe if Sello had someone to teach her to look left, right and left again or had a parent to hold her hand.
You took a solo trip up Africa’s highest point, Mount Kilimanjaro, to do some soul-searching. What did you find?
The first week was easy but the second and third weeks were a real physical and emotional challenge. What kept me going was the realisation that I had made a choice to go through what I was going through, but those kids did not have a choice. If it had not been for that journey, I would not have known what it means to suffer and to be lonely.
How was it in the beginning?
It was tough. I went to different people asking for money. They said ‘no’.
I realised I had no credibility. I was not offering a solution. I was merely asking people to trust me with their money and in return I would make a problem disappear.
Do you ever feel like you are not doing enough to meet the magnitude of the challenge?
I once heard Dr Vincent Maphai tell a story about how a donor once gave him a blanket. For the donors, it might have looked like a mere blanket, but Dr Maphai talked about it as being the happiest winter in his life. I have since learnt not to take for granted anything we are able to do for others.
What would you like to see eventually happen and by when would you like to see that happen?
I would like to see us become redundant. We have started community enterprises. We have taken note of the failures of the government’s income-generating activities, which was a well intended programme that was let down by poor execution.
A lot of money was wasted and we do not want to just throw money at the problem and hope it will go away. We want to see communities being able to put a real business together where there is skills transfer. We have to inspire young people to be entrepreneurs.
» Visit www.thelonelyroad.org
» This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust
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