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One Step Closer to Education: “The New Age Madiba's” Dream

With March being Human Rights Month in South Africa, we thought it fitting to have a chat with someone incredibly passionate about equal access to education - a basic right to all South Africans.

Many of us may remember sitting through a Life Orientation class in primary school, learning that every person has the right to an education – our laws ensure equal access to primary, secondary, and tertiary education for all people. But as naïve and hopeful 12-year-olds, we had yet to understand the difference between equal access and equal opportunity.

It's all fine and well to say that everyone should be able to go to school, but what if school means run-down facilities, inadequate learning materials, and overcrowded classrooms? Is this truly considered an environment conducive to learning?

“For South Africa to comply with both its own constitutional and international human rights obligations with respect to education, major change is needed urgently,” said Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa.

And while it is most certainly up to our government to address an issue so prevalent in our country, the light that individuals hope to bring at the end of the tunnel is certainly welcome. One such individual is a man named Onke Vulidobo Sitwayi, also fondly referred to as “The New Age Madiba.”

Born and raised in one of Eastern Cape's secluded villages, 100km south of Umtata, this 31-year-old dreamer is dedicated to walking his way to change. Onke is the founder of Dream Out Loud and co-founder of No One Left Behind Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing resources to secluded villages. His goal for the foundation is to bring the necessary tools and infrastructure to his community, so that children have access to information and opportunities, and can make informed decisions about their future.

“The easiest thing in the world is to sit comfortably on your couch, to point fingers and complain about a problem. That doesn't solve anything. The most effective thing to do is to get up and try to find solutions for the problems we see, no matter how big or small,” says Onke.

Onke grew tired of waiting for someone to come to his community's rescue. “The challenges village schools have today are the same challenges they had when I was still a student. Even though I don't have the resources, I have decided to be the voice for change in my own community, and pray that someone hears me.”

So what is Dream Out Loud?

“We are a self-funded organization of dreamers and creators, building a community of independent thinkers, free from outside control, a generation of doers. We believe creating opportunities is better than looking for one, and we are driven by the desire to serve the under-privileged.”

Dream Out Loud started their 27 Days Walk Campaign in January 2021. The campaign is a form of non-violent protest that aims to boost public awareness about lack of resources in secluded villages, and hopes to raise funds for quality education and access to resources for his community.

Onke's first walk started in the bustling city of Johannesburg, and ended in the Eastern Cape, totalling a distance of 800km. Fuelled by his passion to inspire change, he then went on to do a walk of 1325km from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

With the first walk, Onke and his team were faced with the challenge of being on the road for 27 days without any form of security, not knowing where they were going to sleep or eat. They were able to get funding from friends and family members, then began receiving donations once the walk had begun and they were able to share their story on social media.

“My first goal is to build a pre-school for my village. The long-term goal, the 2030 vision, is to build self-sustaining libraries and computer labs for the village high schools. Until that dream is realized, I as the walker will keep walking. As long as my legs will carry me, I might even walk to Asia.”

It is Onke's passion and never-ending optimism that truly brings hope in the face of a matter that often-times feels like a lost cause.

“Your actions and words carry energy, so whatever energy you put out there will come looking for you. This is what inspires me to do good. Helping someone grows a person spiritually, especially if your deed comes from pure intentions.”

So what's Onke's advice for those who have a cause they strongly believe in, but aren't sure how to take their message forward?

“Start with what you have, and use the power of social media to connect with people. Start talking about your cause – you never know who is listening. No matter how discouraging the journey may be, try to stay positive and remind yourself why you started in the first place.”

The point is, start small. At the end of the day, whether it be through a donation or volunteer work, we can each do our part to help our local community – and that is the message that Onke hopes to carry forward.

Onke's next walk will start on the 1st of April 2022 in Gqeberha, and ends on the 27th of April in Limpopo. You can follow along his journey here, and support his Back-a-Buddy here.