About 300 high-school learners, who come from impoverished backgrounds where electricity is still a dream, are seeing a ray of hope after a Good Samaritan, Sipho Mangesi (27), bought them solar lights.
Sipho, who is a pilot, says learners in the remote rural areas of the Eastern Cape where he hails from find it difficult to study once the sun sets due to their families’ financial constraints.
“Rural kids have many struggles. [The] Eastern Cape is predominately rural and lack services like running water and electricity. This affects them and that’s when I got this idea of solar lights,” he says.
He says he has given out about 300 solar lights so learners in matric can study at night.
“People used to use candles or paraffin lamps and these things are costly. Kids had to go to sleep at certain times because they can’t afford to light the whole night,” he tells Move!.
He believes the solar lights will make a difference in not just the lives of the learner, but also their families because it will decrease lighting costs in the house and eliminate the risk of starting a fire and burning down the house.
“These solar lights help the whole family because anything that is USB-connecting can connect and charge, like a cellphone,” he says.
Sipho says there are people who have been helping him buy these lights. However, they don’t want to be in the spotlight.
He says he’s doing this because he understands their circumstances and has had his struggles growing up. A poor rural kid from Ngqamakwe in the Eastern Cape, he started schooling writing on sand because there was no stationery nor a roof to cover the classrooms.
Before coming up with the idea of solar lights, Sipho was holding career exhibitions to expose rural kids to possible career paths they might have not thought possible.
“When I go to schools, I started not only doing career expos but also motivating them and their personal development,” he shares.
This is an opportunity he never had when he was in high school. Because he was good at fixing things around the house, Sipho thought engineering would be his career path. However, he was still quite interested in flying a plane.
“I had a dream of flying the world and meeting [American singer] Usher. I knew I was going to fly a plane but never knew how I would go about doing that. Schools in townships don’t have the info but the interest was there,” he says.
The engineering path didn’t see the light of day after the lad saw an advert for air force recruitment. He applied thinking that’s the only way one can get into aviation.
“I went to Pretoria for selection. I remember getting into the plane for the first time. I knew I was destined for this. But the training never happened,” he says.
He was then forced to stay at home. This did knock his confidence as family and friends were telling him to “just give this pilot thing up and go study”.
“I knew that any tertiary education is not cheap but at air school it’s worse. I got the shock of my life when I looked at the fees. At that time, to be a qualified pilot, I needed half a million. I thought my dreams are dead. There was no such money at home,” he shares.
Sipho was so determined to make it work that he managed to register at an aviation school. He attended classes and when there was no money, he’d be home waiting for his parents to save.
“At first, my father was telling me to give up. My mother was very supportive and encouraged me to not give up, even if we must sell everything and live in a hole. My dad saw that I was determined. He started supporting me even with money they would get from their policy payouts,” he says.
Sipho finally managed to study full-time when he got his licence and received a bursary from the transport department, then qualified as a private pilot in 2014. This year he qualified to fly commercial.
When he’s not giving out solar lights, he’s giving free rides to kids who have never flown before. He says he would appreciate people who contribute to making sure more rural and township kids can be exposed to things beyond their circumstances.