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WHEN popular television and radio personality Penny Lebyane cut her teeth in radio at a community radio station, it was either sink or swim.
“I was 17 or 18 years old when I started radio. I was 21 when I got into Metro FM and there was no one to hold my hand. I had to fight to get where I am,’’ Phly One, as she is affectionately known, said.
‘‘When I look back and think who did I have that I could talk to, I realise there was no one.”
Against that backdrop, Find Your Wings – her outreach programme for rural schools in Mpumalanga and Limpopo – was born.
Through her foundation, the Motswako talk show hostess will focus on Rhelane Primary School – where she started her pre-primary school education – ES Malele High, Matlolani Higher Primary, Casteel Higher Primary and Madjembeni Primary.
The programme, which will be launched on Wednesday, will address the stigma attached to HIV/Aids and assist children by setting up mentorship programmes aimed at personal development and career guidance.
“When I visited the schools three or four years ago, my eyes were open to the challenges they faced. Some schools don’t have basic books for children to read, let alone libraries. There are societal issues: of children being raised by a single parent because of HIV … school is the one place they can escape to.
‘‘At one high school, I was told there was no feeding scheme, I mean that can’t be right,” she said.
Lebyane has also been involved in several other campaigns, including the Gauteng Tourism’s AmaGeePee, the Sowetan Dream Matric Dance Dress and the Gauteng Health Department’s HIV/Aids know your status project.
But she wanted to become involved in something more sustainable and long-term. The R100 000 she received from the MTN Y’ello Rose initiative allowed her to do just that in the areas where she grew up.
“Mpumalanga and Limpopo symbolise my roots … I only came to Soweto when I was 12 years old.
“At the schools where hunger is a problem, we will be planting vegetable gardens. It’s not just about giving the children food, it’s to show them that there are opportunities where they live. You need to get to the heartbeat of a community to truly get involved and from there you can communicate effectively.”
She says the vegetable gardens serve to encourage children to see their minds as ‘‘fresh gardens and plant tenacity and ambition’’.
‘‘The whole idea is to start small but leave a seed that will bring change to the communities.”
Lebyane also works with first and second-year journalism students from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), giving women, in particular, advice on entering the media industry.
“There’s a huge drop-out rate from girls in varsity because they go to varsity, meet a boy and then their dreams take a diversion.”
There’s also a TUT award, which is presented to students who perform the best in class academically, named after Lebyane.