Komatipoort - The determination of an 18-year-old orphan from Mpumalanga to selflessly care for her three younger siblings has inspired her community to build the family a house.
Thembeni Themba, a Grade 11 learner at Mjokwane High School in deep-rural Naas near Komatipoort, received the fully furnished five-room house at the weekend.
She has been taking care of Zakhele, 15, Timothy, 13, and Sindile, 9, since their mother died five years ago, by which time the children had not seen their father in many years.
"I thank God for touching other people's hearts to stand up for us and build us this beautiful house," said Thembeni during the handover ceremony.
"For the first time, I'm going to use electricity when I'm cooking for my brothers and sisters, and we will all sleep in a bed."
Thembeni said it had been her dream to build a decent house for the family, who had been living in a one-room brick structure with a broken front door and leaky roof. It had no electricity or running water.
"After what I've been through, I've decided to become a social worker so that I can help other people who are like me," she added.
According to her principal, Esther Mncina, the children survive mostly on food from the school's feeding scheme. "We also give them leftovers to take home," she added.
"Since October last year, Thembeni has been getting a social grant, although only hers was approved. We are still waiting for the Department of Health and Social Services to approve grants for the other three children."
Mncina said Thembeni's school teachers and fellow pupils were so moved by her courage that they initiated an effort the build a house for the family.
"When we started the project, we just wanted to build a two-room house for the children, but people started pitching in and we got more and more support from the community and businesspeople. Everyone helped beyond our expectations. It made the school realise that an ocean starts from one drop of water."
Mncina said tradesmen would refuse to charge for their services, while different individuals would arrive with window frames, doors and furniture.
"The pupils also pitched in to make bricks in the yard after we received donations of cement and building materials," she added.
The handover of the house was made even more special when Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba made a surprise appearance.
"Thembeni has shown other orphans that despite challenges, a person can live a caring life and also continue with schooling. Many orphans often use their situation as an excuse to run away from their responsibility, but Thembeni's good example touched the hearts of the whole community," said Gigaba.