“From a very young age I’ve always aspired to bring change in my community.”

Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown has inspired Nonhlanhla Koaho (18) to join forces with government officials to help those made vulnerable by the pandemic.

Born and raised in Kroonstad, Free State, Koaho launched The Change Foundation during her matric year in June 2019, as a platform to assist the needy in her community. “As a young girl growing up, I would see some of my classmates with no food to eat during lunch breaks, and others would carry a plastic bag to school because they couldn’t afford a school bag. This was painful to witness,” she said.

Koaho told Wits Vuvuzela that growing up in a disadvantaged community motivated her to launch her foundation and sent her on a quest to change the lives of the less fortunate.

“I always thought that I had to work first, generate an income and then give to the needy. However I realised that the process was going to delay what I wanted to achieve. So, I did my own research on NGOs, and that’s the route I eventually decided to take [launching a charitable entity].”

Koaho added that she has been running a sanitary towel drive as part of the foundation’s long-term project. “I donate to girls and women in my community and at local schools. Other females contact me through the foundation’s official Facebook page.”

Koaho, who refers to herself as ‘the mother of the foundation’, explains that under the lockdown, the foundation has been able to deliver on its various community service programmes.

“I have employed 15 people to help me run the programmes within the foundation, one of them is the mask-the-homeless-movement that we started since we saw that the pandemic was getting serious. We donate masks to the homeless who are currently being sheltered at Nyakallong (a holiday resort in town).”

She added that the programmes provided by the foundation are advertised on their official Facebook page and through word of mouth.

Koaho explained that they are working remotely, however in case when physical contact is necessary, they have precautionary measures in place to protect themselves.

“We offer counselling services as well. We have social workers and police officers on board that we work with. If any of our community members are struggling emotionally, mentally or physically, especially during these trying times, we have the right people who will intervene and help out,” she told Wits Vuvuzela.

She added that they are operating on a constrained budget as they have not managed to secure funding or a sponsor. “It has been difficult finding people who are willing to donate and it’s quite sad I must say. So at the moment we are all contributing from our own pockets, which also has its own challenges because none of us are working.”

“Funding or no funding, I am still going to continue doing what I love using whatever small resources that I have. I am also grateful for my family, they have been supporting me a lot.” Koaho explained.

The 18-year-old told Wits Vuvuzela that given the lockdown restrictions, she launched a quarantine school programme through which the class of 2020 can be assisted with their school subjects.

“I have a team of tutors and teachers from various schools [in Kroonstad] who have availed themselves, but due to the lockdown, we can only conduct the classes via WhatsApp. We have different WhatsApp groups for different subjects like maths, economics, maths lit, tourism and geography to name a few.”

“My main reason for initiating a quarantine school programme is that I was receiving a lot of messages from matriculants and most of them raised concerns about the possibilities of not performing well,” she said.

She added that the tutors are tertiary level students who have matriculated with  at least 70% average in the subjects they are required to tutor.

Koaho said that working closely with government officials has been crucial in ensuring that the programmes are successfully implemented. “For the “Mask the homeless movement”, we have a ward councillor who is assisting us in this regard.”

Lerata Bolofo (40), a municipality ward councillor in the Moqhaka region in Kroonstad said, “Since covid-19, I have been running  the centre for the homeless. I give the members of the foundation a platform to engage the community around health and anything that we deem fit for the community.”

Koaho’s grandmother, Cafe Koaho (72) says, “In my experience of raising Nonhlanhla, I’d give her money to take to school, but before you even know it, she has already given it to someone else who is in need. I knew from there on that this child will grow to be a giver and a server.”

“Even with The Change Foundation, we gave her our full support because we knew that helping others is something that has always been in her,” she added.

When community work is not keeping her busy, Koaho is preparing to rewrite her maths exam in November. She is currently upgrading her maths mark in order to study BCom Economics, in 2021 at North West University.

FEATURED IMAGE: Nonhlanhla Koaho at a town in Kroonstad during the sanitary towel drive programme. Photo: Provided