Kenneth Malepe (28) is a remarkable young man!
Today he is a project manager at Carryou Ministry but it's been a long, hard road he's had to travel and, because of his life-experiences, he can identify with and understand the struggles of the hundreds of people he helps every day.
"I was the fourth of six children," he says, "raised by a single mother, in Itirileng, a tiny village in the Northern Cape.
"My mum eventually moved to Randfontein with my two younger sisters, to try to find work. In 2000, aged 16, I moved there as she needed help caring for my sisters.
"I did much of the washing and cooking when I got home from school in the afternoons."
Head of the household
A few months later his mother died and the 16 year-old boy found himself thrust into the role of head of the household, with the responsibility of taking care of his sisters, aged 10 and 14.
"I only started school when I was 11 so, here I was, a Grade 7 (Standard 5) youngster, faced with the responsibility of making sure we survived," he says. "I had to do the cooking, help with the cleaning, make lunches for school and worry about keeping us all together, all of which became increasing difficult when I started high school."
But fate smiled upon the little orphaned family when Sister Pam Jamison, Carryou Ministry founder, got to hear of their plight.
"She set things in motion," says Kenneth, "and arranged for Penny McRory, a wonderful woman, who became our guide and mentor, to sponsor us.
"Penny visited us in November and bought us clothes, Christmas presents and stationery for school. In addition, every month, she supplied money that covered the cost of food, groceries and school-fees.
"We also had an uncle who lived on the East Rand who visited and helped."
2002 was the start of a whole new life for the kids.
"Penny was like a mother to us and Sister Pam took me under her wing. She would take me shopping and teach me how to buy groceries, budget and run a household," says Kenneth.
Two years later the youngster had to make the tough decision to send his youngest sister back home to their village.
"I just couldn't cope with taking care of two teenaged girls while at the same time, trying to run a household and give attention to my school-studies," he says.
"It was difficult to do but I knew she would be well cared for by my granny and aunt and, every month, I sent some of Penny's sponsorship money home to help provide for her.
"I visited her every school holiday and we spent many hours just sitting and chatting."
Sadly, some time later, it was discovered she was born with a serious lung-deficiency and she died before her 20th birthday.
In 2006 Kenneth graduated from school and, with Penny's help, enrolled at the University of Johannesburg, studying for a degree in commerce and accounting.
In his spare time and during the holidays, he helped at Carryou and also assisted, teaching accounting at his former high school in Randfontein.
"So many people had helped me that I just wanted to give something back," he says.
But the pressure of being at university every day and continuing to take care of his sister, eventually became too much.
He decided to continue his degree studies through the University of South Africa (UNISA), the country's best-know distance-learning institution and, at the same time, enrol in an internship programme with Carryou Ministry.
Two years later he was appointed Programme Manager, where he now oversees the operations of the Toekomsrus Drop-in Centre.
"I am not too far from completing my degree," he says, "but I know I really should have done a Bachelors' degree in social welfare and intend to do just that when this degree is done."
There are marriage plans on the horizon for Kenneth and, whenever he can, he likes to travel.
"I love exploring, seeing new things, new places and meeting new people," he says.
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