Salem Etaka, (21), fell in a deep depression after giving up on life, but it was his own decision to get up and live that has now enabled him to speak to others about life and purpose. He is a motivational speaker who grew up with nothing and worked towards something. This is his story:
“I was born in Congo. We moved to Cape Town when I was four and grew up most of my life in Westlake. I always had questions about life and the purpose of it. I’ve always been a curious child.”
Salem was only 13 when his parents separated and his father left them. “I was 13 when my father left us. My dad was the breadwinner of the house. We always had very little, but when he was there we could cope with what he was bringing in the house. When he left we had absolutely nothing.”
The separation from their father put a strain on the young Salem and his brother, and they decided to work for their family and do whatever they could to help out.
“My brother and I started working while at school, trying to support the family. We worked after school hours and during our school holidays cleaning people’s yards, construction work; we did car guarding, fixing computers and basically anything we could to provide.”
The Etaka family went through a rough valley and no one knew they were struggling.
“It was a real struggle trying to pay school fees, we’d wear worn-out clothing, slept hungry at times, life was really tough. People didn’t know we were struggling.”
Salem explains his outlook on school: he thought school was not important because of the real-life issues he faced, but his mother was the one that gave him that extra push.
“I was clever in school but I did not think that school is of any value, so I never really cared about it. In matric, I failed my first term and barely passed my second term until my mom told me I had to repeat the year if I continued and that pushed me to work harder. I then passed matric with bachelors.”
Once he completed school, he decided to go to Bible school. Things went well for one year and then hit a downhill.
“After matric I studied at the River Bible Institute for a year, but came back because of no funds. I fell into a deep depression, all I did for a month was wake up and stare at my ceiling asking what’s the point of life. I gave up on life.”
Despite the circumstances, he got up again. Salem realized that life moves on and there is a bigger picture, he just needed to go out and create that picture for himself.
“One day I just got up and told myself, just go do something. I went to the community center and asked for volunteer work. I said they could give me whatever it is they want me to do. They allowed me to work with traumatized children. I was volunteering there working with children who’ve been through trauma.”
The voluntary work opened up more doors for Salem and he realized the opportunities are limitless and started seeking more.
“I wasn’t feeling satisfied, I felt like there was a bigger world out there. I ended up volunteering for Orphan Care Foundation. Every Friday I came into the community and taught them about God, life, issues in the environment. That’s when I discovered I love talking and teaching people about life.”
This love for public speaking led him to a youth group where he met the founder of Future Life and Future Talk.
“I went into this youth group called Crosslife and I met Ronald, the founder of Future Life and Future Talk. They go into schools and teach children about life and about God and volunteered there.”
Salem’s heart for people and compassion towards others means that he never stops giving. He hands out free coffee to the men who stand and wait on the roads for employment. “Every Wednesday I go out and I hand out coffee to those guys standing on the street waiting for work.”
Salem also has a heart for music – he plays the keyboard and raps. “I’ve been in love with music ever since I discovered it in grade 2. I do live performances at youth, churches, community organizations and NGO’s.”
Salem explains what he is doing now, which is speaking to people about having a hope and a future, motivating them that they have a purpose in this life.
“Right now I do public speaking to help others discover purpose and become leaders. Future Life and Future Talk goes into different schools, teaching and helping children change their minds about life, to dream big about life and God. We do talks, activities and teaching. I still work with Crosslife as well.”
Salem smiles in amazement as he looks back on how his family has grown and moved on in life. His family also do their bit by volunteering and making food parcels for those less fortunate.
“Seeing where we use to be and where we are right now, God has really taken us from the valley. We’re not on the top of the mountain right now, but we’re in the middle reaching for the top.”
Salem strongly believes that life has a purpose and everyone matters; no one is a mistake.
“I believe my purpose in life is to help people find purpose. To help people have visions and dreams and to help people become leaders. This is what drives me. I believe that everybody is born a solution to a problem.”
He ends off by giving hope and encouragement to all those currently facing a dry time in their lives: “The reason why most people fall into depression or have low self –esteem is because they lack purpose. My encouragement to those people, seek God. The Bible says that God gives wisdom to those who ask for it, it also says that God has a plan and future for your life. Before you were born God had plans for you, he put you on this planet earth because he wants you to accomplish something.”
Salem also has his own YouTube channel and blog called The Alpha Light.