My name is Theonel. I am a boy from a small village in Mpumalanga. I once thought of my life as a life without a future. I used to tell myself that I didn’t ask to be born and wished I wasn’t, because I never experienced love from a parent.

I used to disrespect my sister and would sometimes insult her, telling her that she has no say in my life because she is not my mother. I was the worst kid in our community. I was bad and naughty, but I was surprised that my community still believed in me.

On the 8th of August in 2011, I lost my uncle, the only breadwinner of our home. The one person that we could call our beacon of hope was gone and we were stunned. On this day I was inside my grade four classroom when a clerk came in to tell me that I was summoned by the principal. I quickly went to her office, cracked open the door and looked in.

I asked her, “Have you summoned me?”

She told me that she called me in to meet someone. There was a beautiful, humble woman whose name is Talita Mthethuwa. I learned that Talita was starting an orphanage in our community and she would love it if I would attend some of their programmes.

I was so delighted and grateful because when I looked at her, she gave me the feeling that she had some answers to our problems in our Tintswalo Village.

I asked her, “Why me?”

She answered, “Well, it takes a village to raise a child and I am trying to give back to my community, so why not you?” I was surprised by this lady.

Talita taught me to show love, care, respect and kindness to other people. Something I didn’t have myself, so I couldn’t show to other people. I told her that my behaviour was bad, my temper was bad and uncontrollable, and that I needed help. She told me that I wouldn’t be a problem because she would introduce me to Sonnyboy Shai, a member of the Seeds of Light Scouts at the orphanage they were building in Acornhoek. I didn’t know anything about Scouts but was interested in it. I wanted to commit myself to Scouts because I thought it might help me build up good behaviour.

On the 14th of January, 2013, the Ekurhuleni Centre for Orphans and Vulnerable Children opened in the midst of the Tintswalo Village. It seemed that many people were not interested in the orphan centre because a lot of people tried to help the community but didn’t last too long. People were not trying from their hearts, they were trying to gain trust and then take from the community. Talita isn’t a rich person, but she sacrificed a lot for the sake of our community, especially when there was a shortage of food at the orphanage. The Orphan Centre has steadily progressed since 2015 and it has saved a lot of lives.

Mrs Talita Mthettawo is my inspiration. She has been a saviour of so many people and I have learned a lot from her. My life changed because of her. I gained confidence in the orphanage. I learned kindness, courage and wisdom. I was shown that I have a bright future ahead of me if I worked hard. I learned that education is the most powerful weapon I can wield to change the world.