BD: Please tell us about your upbringing?
PS: I was born on a farm and raised by a single parent. I didn’t know who my father was growing up and I still don’t know him. I had a step-father but he was an alcoholic and violent. I remember one day my mother running away from her house after she had a fight with my step father and I decided in the morning to throw my step fathers’ belongings out of the house and stood at the gate with a small knife crying and told him to leave the house. I was scared but I was tired of seeing my mom in pain. From that day He never came back. My mother fell sick a year after. She was very ill and sometimes I stayed away from school to cook, feed and carry her to the bathroom. She passed away when I was 13 and my aunt moved in with me. She was however, very abusive and the social workers kicked her out of my mother’s house after she had stayed with me for 3 years. I joined a youth group at Waterberg Welfare Society (WWS) as an orphan and confronted my beast in any way possible to be delivered from it by healing.
BD: What do you mean by that?
PS: I am referring to my wounds. I started to speak about my struggles rather than bottling them inside and being a victim of my past. I had a lot of anger towards my aunt and I realised the importance of doing whatever I needed to do to move on, away from that place of anger. I confronted her and forgave her. In forgiving her, I felt like I had freed myself in the process. I also had to forgive my father, even though he was never around. I forgave him for that. I was placed in a hostel by the organization so I could finish my matric.
BD: What was your school life like?
PS: I developed a passion for writing when I was in high school and I ended up heading the school newspaper as the editor and won awards for 2 years from grade 11 to 12. I competed in science expo competitions and ended up at national levels for 3 years. I did poetry and speeches for guests at school and that landed me in being in an exchange school program and went to England – Leeds for 3 weeks. I was a school representative from grade 9- 11 and in grade 12 I was a secretary. High school was challenging for me because I wasn’t very smart but my personality helped me a lot. My matric results were not good at all and couldn’t qualify to go to university and didn’t have the finances to go further. I was disappointed and thought it was the end of me. But the same organization (WWS) that took me in was looking for volunteers at that time and I applied and became part of the team 3 months later I was employed as a peer educator and I went around the schools teaching young people about HIV/Aids, alcohol abuse, sex and other social issues.
BD: What happened thereafter, how did your life progress?
PS: As I was working, I looked for online courses to do. The first course I did was broadcasting journalism with SA Writers College, then print journalism with UNISA and advertising and marketing with Oxbridge. I did all of that in a period of 4 years as distance learning courses and applied to work with Waterberg Waves Community Radio Station as a journalist and presenter. I also did some freelancer for Limpopo Beat provincial newspaper during that time. I got involved with South African Lacrosse project from 2007 through WWS and 5 years later I connected with a family that started the project and went to USA for 3 months for my media internship and fundraising. In 2014 I resigned from WWS and came to Cape Town to study film and video production. I ended up joining a discipleship training school with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and I travelled to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana for missionary (volunteer) work. I was with YWAM for 2 years and I went home for a year to do some community work with WWS, the radio station, lacrosse project and Waterberg biosphere and that’s when SA Heroes discovered the work I was doing in the community and they shot my story that was featured on E.tv for a month of December in 2016. I came back to Cape Town in 2017 because I felt like I had some unfinished businesses. So now I’m part of a media organisation called Media Village and I co-lead films and video schools and also staff the discipleship school to mentor young people who want to be in the media world. I have my own media company now that uses photography, videos and graphic design to feed into my media missions work (volunteer program) and uses some of the money to sponsor orphans and vulnerable children in my Malawi in a project I started called #SendMe2School.
PS: Education for me is vital but it means nothing if we lose the human spirit of loving ourselves and those around us. Skills will open doors for you, but it’s your character that will keep you in that place and help you grow. I realised in my youth that without having a teachable spirit, a heart that respects everyone, a disciplined mind; it’s impossible to grow and work with other people so that was a key for me to be where I am today. A positive attitude. I was not the smartest kid in the school but because of my attitude towards others, I got more opportunities than people who were smart but with a bad attitude.
BD: A lot of people are put off doing volunteer work because of no payment, what makes you continue to do it?
PS: I believe that in order to change the world, you need to serve others. Volunteering for me was the best decision I ever made. It helped me learn practical skills, develop relationships with others and learn about who I am and what I want to do with my life. There are things you get exposed to, people you connect with and knowledge you have access to when doing things to make a difference in people smiles. I never looked for a payment but to better other people’s lives. People’s smiles was a payment for me and still is. I never wanted to do what I don’t love. Volunteering helped me discover who I am and not waste time studying something for the sake of money, but do something that brings me joy. You get to refine your skills when volunteering and you build a network of people who share the same passion you possess in a practical way. I know a lot of people, have travelled to places and learned a lot of things from volunteering than I would have if I was sitting at home making excuses or complaining about unemployment.
BD: How did the love for working with and for the community come about?
PS: As an orphan, I was raised by a community and I am because of the spirit of Ubuntu. No man can make it on their own. We all need help. There are so many gifted young people and I wanted to be a vehicle that gives others opportunities, just as I was given. As they say, it takes a community to raise a child and I wanted to be that piece of puzzle that contributes in bringing positive change in the community. The passion for working in the community came through a lady called Mary Stephenson from the UK. She had such a huge heart for our community, especially people infected and affected by HIV. She became my mentor, my mother, somebody that I admired and wanted to be like. She was a great example to me of what it means to give, to love and help and that gave me an idea of what life is about and what I was created for.
BD: What are some challenges you faced from the time you decided to involve yourself in developing your community?
PS: I think I got sickened by seeing how many people were dying from lack of knowledge about HIV, how young girls were taken advantage of and falling pregnant and giving up on their education and young men abusing alcohol and being exposed to pornography. I didn’t have a role model growing up, apart from Nelson Mandela so I wanted to be that in the community.
BD: HIV seems to be a huge part of the work you do. Why is this?
PS: My aunt passed away from HIV/Aids. I had to take over raising her daughter and I often I saw boys who don’t have mentors or fathers. That compelled me to getting equipped in life skills through WWS and educating people at schools, farms and in the community. I wanted to use media as a platform to inform, educate and find creative ways to entertain people positively and that’s why I studied what I studied, all sorts of media and had the opportunity to speak about some of those social issues on radio.
BD: As a country, where are we in terms of educating those around us about HIV?
PS: I think South Africa has done a great job in terms of educating people about HIV, providing counselling and ARVs. I mean we went everywhere in the community: in the villages, farms, schools and all the surrounding communities. It is just a matter of individuals being conscious and not allowing the stigma behind HIV to paralyze them from doing what is right. A huge challenge now is people not taking the responsibility and being ignorant, especially young people. We need to stop being ashamed about talking about sex, abstinence, pornography or HIV in schools, work places, churches and homes.
BD: The numbers of infections are still high. What, in your opinion needs to change for these statistics to change?
PS: We need to be consistent in communicating HIV related messages and find creative ways to address them through technology or social media. I believe sports, art and media has a role in addressing this issue and I don’t think it’s done enough. We have the people; we just need tools to deliver that message in a way that it will be received by a younger generation. This is an instant generation that is always on the move and looking for something to entertain them and we need to go to them rather than expecting them to come to us. It takes a lot of discipline, commitment and people who don’t just do the talk but become role models in those areas. We also need local leaders, especially traditional healers and leaders. There is shame and twisted myth about what HIV is (especially in the rural areas) and a lot of people in the village end up taking traditional medication instead of ARVs when they are diagnosed with it.
BD: Is the government doing enough to eradicate the spread and stigmatization of those who are HIV positive?
PS: I think the government is not doing enough to support local NGO’s financially. There are too many Non-Profit Organisations who rely on international funds to look after the poor, orphaned and widowed. We need local support. From local businesses, churches, the government and the community in general to get involved. HIV needs everyone working together, if one sector is weak, we will all fall sick. We need to train and give young people opportunities in a medical or health space to learn and do internship or get involved in volunteering programs that leads them to having full time employment. Our radio, TV and newspapers news to have slots where people speak about magazines. Educational youth shows such as soul city or soul buddies needs to come back. Our dramas on TV must have something related to HIV to keep the next generation informed. Information changes, technology changes and we need to be updated with that and use it to our advantage. As a media person, I understand how powerful media is and if we use it well, we will win the bottle.
BD: How does working for the community radio station impact the work you do?
PS: The radio station gave me a platform to speak for those who don’t have the stage to address their issues. I had the privilege to discuss and connect local leaders with their followers and talk about things that concern them. The radio station became a bridge for me to bring change and to make people feel like they matter by listening to them and allowing them to express their needs and hold people accountable to what they said they would do. I ran a current affairs show as an investigative reporter and spoke a lot on service delivery, politics and business. I presented on a youth show about the importance of education, sports and health and that opened the community up and made us proud.
We were able to confront issues and speak with the right people. Studying media was the best decision I ever made. It gave me the privilege to be a role model and influence young people’s thinking and take responsibility for my actions.
BD: What do you believe is your purpose and are you fulfilling it?
PS: My purpose in life is to love, to give and help as many people I can with what I have. Media has been a tool I use to stand for justice and speak for those who are oppressed and make money so I can invest in other young people who come from the same background as I do. I believe everyone is gifted, they just need an opportunity to live their dream. I was given that and I believe it is time for me to let the elevator down to pick others up. I want to continue travel and help organisations that deal with orphans and vulnerable children. I want to fundraise money for those who can’t afford to go to school and offer my media skills for NGO’s across Africa. My heart is for empowering the poor, the orphans and widows and partnering with different sports, health and education companies that look beyond making money but making a difference in people’s lives. So far I believe I am doing that but want to continue to do more.
BD: With all the youth projects out there, does yours have that one unique feature that distinguishes it from the rest?
PS: My projects are currently based on mentoring fatherless boys, fundraising money for orphans, helping homeless people and equipping young people in the media world. I do this through different organisations who are already doing that and I come in as a partner, or as I like to call it; Helper. I don’t believe in starting something of my own, but in filling the gap in each organisation I work with through my skills. They all carry the same belief I do about empowering people and giving them ownership. They know that education is more than giving people a skill, but it’s also knowing that gifts will only take us where our character can keep us.
BD: Who or what inspires you?
PS: I’m inspired by nature. I’m inspired by diversity. I’m inspired by individuals who rise above their circumstances, who reach the stars and remain grounded (humble) and treat every human being with dignity. I don’t really have a specific people because I have surrounded my life with a lot of great people who push me to give my best in everything I do. I would be lying if I said my belief in God didn’t play a role in who I am today. All of me has a lot to do with my faith in God and knowing that He created me for a purpose.
BD: What does an ideal world look like to you?
PS: An ideal world for me is people being given equal opportunity, whether male or female, black or white, it doesn’t matter. Quality education. I’m up for free education but not lukewarm free education for the poor. Embracing diversity or our individuality. We need to learn to disagree but still work together as a nation. Our political differences, religion, race and nationalities shouldn’t divide us but use it to our advantage to create a nation that is rich in culture and ideas. Leadership. We need leaders who are accountable, who lead by example and think about the need of the people, not just themselves and their buddies. Ownership: Land is a big issue in South Africa. I don’t believe that it’s right for people to live in a grounded space while somebody has occupied a land that they’re not even utilizing to benefit the community but themselves.
BD: What advice do you have for someone who wants to give back to their community? What would you say is the first step they should take?
PS: The first step is to live in the community, to learn about the community and do things with the community, not for the community. That’s how empowerment comes in. It’s when you give people ownership and awaken their capabilities to stand for themselves. I don’t believe in hand-outs; I believe in teaching somebody how to swim so they can live when you die.
BD: What keeps you going?
PS: My belief in God and knowing that He created me to live not just for myself but to serve others keeps me going. I find joy in loving, giving, and helping others discover their gifts and flying like eagles. I smile when I see a diamond coming out of a hopeless situation and when people become the best version of themselves. That’s what keeps me going.