It was just a snapshot of a South African young man seated at his cluttered desk, smiling faintly. But the photo I took of Joshua Masekwameng last month captured him at a wonderful moment. He had just learned that his education in hotel management was secure, thanks to the generosity of Sun readers.
Many readers responded to my short piece about Joshua on April 29. He used to live in a crowded shack and study by candlelight. He had passed the key high school "matric" exams and had started at Rosebank College. He was now living with his uncle near Pretoria in a proper house, but his uncle had to scrimp to cover the $2,300 tuition (which was why a water-damaged ceiling hadn't been fixed).
Accompanying the article was a photo of the rutted dirt road near Joshua's old shack (where relatives still live) and one of Joshua standing outside it. I took those photos in February last year, when I first wrote about him. He bore no hint of a smile then.
By the evening of April 29, Johannesburg time, I had received several e-mails from readers wanting to help. Eventually, 10 such e-mails landed in my inbox.
Then the checks started arriving at my in-laws' in Montgomery County. By the time I visited Joshua and his uncle, Johannes, I had $2,100 banked for his tuition. Because his uncle had already scraped together $1,140 (an entire month's salary) and a Sun reader had given $100 after reading about him last year, his 2007 tuition was now paid off.
And we had a head start on the second year of tuition for his two-year program. Since then, $140 more has come in, and $350 has been pledged. Other readers promised to fill any gaps in next year's tuition; a school librarian suggested a fundraiser. Odds are good that Sun readers will give him a full ride.
Joshua, a shy, thoughtful 21-year-old, is loving school. He excitedly described a lesson on calming unruly hotel guests. Most of his free time he spends reading for class. "My friends are books," he told me.
His uncle, like Joshua, expressed gratitude for the kindness of strangers who were moved by a young man's determination to excel in a country where many blacks face big hurdles.
Johannes is a big believer in education. He put two children through college and pays for a niece's high school. He says he'd rather go poor than see Joshua deprived of schooling. Now his burden is a little lighter. And maybe he'll be able to fix that ceiling.