Nkululeko Shelembe (13B) mentors youth in Johannesburg after UWP

NK with a group of children in Johannesburg, South Africa

Often, when I see an update from NK on Facebook, it involves him giving tours of his country to individuals from around the world. His pride in South Africa shines throughout social media as he provides an intimate view of a country many of us dream to visit.

I met NK – Nkululeko Shelembe (‘13B) – when he arrived in Denver, CO for Cast B 2013’s Staging and Orientation. He always had a big smile on his face and an eagerness to help others. This had not changed when I reunited with him in Tucson, AZ in July 2018 for the most recent alumni reunion. After chatting with him and learning of his work to improve the lives of youth in South Africa, I knew his story needed to be shared.

Where do you live?
I live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

NK performing onstage while traveling with UWP.

What is your current job?
I work as a tour operator and tour guide, organizing visits to Johannesburg for guests who are visiting

Tell us more about the mentoring program you started.
The mentoring program started October 10, 2016 in my community. We came across so many young people who did not do anything after school, and often hung out on the streets. There were so many teenage pregnancies. So, I decided to start afternoon programs to help young people by keeping them busy and off the streets. We focus on education, assisting with homework and some of the difficult subjects in school. We also teach soccer, netball, music, and dance.

Why did you start this program?
I started the mentoring program to try to help young people and inspire them to stay in school.

What is your goal of the program?
My goal is to see many young people achieving their dreams and provide youth with access to education assistance.

What obstacles or challenges have you overcome?
It is difficult to access funding to keep the programs running. It is also difficult to recruit other young people to work and volunteer.

Do you have any success stories you can share?
We have been able to secure school uniforms for kids starting school in 2017 and 2018. School uniforms are very important in South Africa and it is sometimes difficult for some parents to afford school uniforms. In 2017 and 2018, we were able to help 120 kids with school uniforms. This has helped to boost their confidence and inspire them to stay in school. 

Did your Up with People experience impact your decision to create the program?
I have always wanted to give back to my community. My Up with People experience gave me the confidence to execute or make that a reality. Indeed, Up with People inspired my decision to do good.

Anything else you’d like to add?
If there are any Uppies making their way to Johannesburg, South Africa, I would be happy to show them Johannesburg and Soweto.

If you traveled from 2004 to present and have a story to share, please contact Megan Luebke at meluebke@gmail.com.


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