PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa—Matthew* is a champion ballroom dancer. His gold trophies fill a cabinet in the house where he grew up. He’s also on the student body council at the University of South Africa in Durban, where he is in his second year of a bachelor’s degree in social work.
But the 20-year-old’s path to success wasn’t easy.
Matthew was abandoned at the hospital where he was born. At 9 months old, he was brought to his new home at the SOS Village in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
“When I took him from the hospital, he had deep sores on his head,” said Sindy Hadebe, Matthew’s SOS Mother and a former nurse. “I thought he would most certainly have brain damage. So I took him home and treated his wounds. We don’t know why he had them. Today his head has a slight bump there.”
In the third grade, Matthew’s teachers diagnosed him with learning disabilities. He was placed in a school for special needs. However, by the time Matthew reached middle school he had improved so much academically that he was placed back in mainstream education.
“People would keep telling my mom that she was wasting her time with me in the regular school,” Matthew said. “But I knew that as along as my mother was there, I could do it. Their negativity made me strive for success. It made me focus.”
Matthew graduated with high marks in high school before going on to university. He returns to the SOS Village every chance he can. “He can’t stay away. He is my sweetheart,” Sindy said. Matthew also speaks at events hosted by the village and represents the SOS children at various meetings at the village.
Sindy and Matthew make some coffee together in their home at the SOS Village in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Sindy is very proud of her son for his success in overcoming the many obstacles he’s faced. She says that he serves as an inspiration to her.
“Matthew inspires me in so many ways…his honesty, his eagerness to learn. He has a lot of respect for people and he is cherished here at home,” she said. “I completed my teaching degree in 2007 because of him. When he came home from school, I used to read his books and thought if I knew what he was learning in school, I could help him be an even better student.”
Matthew understands that as he gets older, he will have less time to spend at the village. The village, however, will always be his home, and Sindy will always be his mother.
“SOS Children’s Villages will always be there for me. It made me into the person I am today,” Matthew said. “I will keep supporting the younger people,” he added. “SOS Children’s Villages is my home and you don’t just leave your family.” *The person’s name was changed at his request for privacy.