Nelson Mandela once said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
While Madiba is no longer with us, about a year ago I had the honor of meeting another South African who is carrying on the late president’s legacy of creating positive change in the community. His name is Mandla Magagula.
Mandla was born in Piet Retief, a small town in the Mpumalanga province in South Africa. Like many black children in apartheid-era South Africa, he grew up in a very poor in a segregated settlement reserved for non-whites, known as the township.
The local school had dirt floors and no running water. Books were not readily available and often tough to come by. Many of the things that we take for granted in the United States, even in the poorest school districts, would have been considered luxuries for Mandla and his fellow students. Thankfully, Mandla was blessed with unfettered intellectual curiosity and abundant self-motivation and he voraciously read what was on hand: religious pamphlets and tracts. His matriculation grades earned him a full scholarship to the University of Pretoria.
Despite the fact that Mandla had never actually used a computer before starting his university studies, he wanted to major in Computer Science. In class, while his fellow students attempted to hone their skills in basic programming, he looked at them to learn the basics, like typing and using a mouse. Since the scholarship money didn’t cover much more than tuition, he often had to forego things like personal toiletries. However difficult, Mandla’s tenacity and desire to succeed finally paid off when he graduated with a master’s degree in Computer Science, landed a job as a software engineer, and paid to move his mother from a shack in Piet Retief to a house in Johannesburg.
But the story doesn’t end there. When Mandla joined Driven Alliance in 2014, he asked them for support in launching a program to give township children some of the opportunities that he never had.
Fixing the Future
His new employer happily obliged and established a program called “Driven Spark Sisonke Rising”. The concept was simple: To provide 6 kids from a township with 3 laptops and teach them how to program using Python and the Agile process.
By the time I spoke with Mandla in December, the program had proven to be a huge success, and they were getting ready to grow the class size to 12 students. With the kind help of friends and acquaintances, we were able to donate 12 additional used machines to the program.
You Can Help
The class has since grown to 30 students, but they still have only 15 laptops. If you have an old laptop (10 years old or newer), please consider donating it to this worthy project, instead of letting it end up in the trash. You can get more information by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. A small effort on your part could make an enormous difference in the lives of disadvantaged youths by given them a seat at the digital table.