By SAMANTHA HARTSHORNE AND SIHLE MLAMBO
UNIVERSITY of Free State Vice-chancellor and Rector Professor Jonathan Jansen believes that 12-year-old Jordan van der Walt - the brains behind the "Just One Bag" food drive that has fed more than a million hungry children - has the potential to become a leader.
Jordan's initiative raised about 100 tons of mealie meal in less than two years and won him the 2012 Inyathelo Award for philanthropy. He was invited by Jansen to give the guest address at the graduation for medical students at UFS this month, where he used the platform to speak to graduates about twice his age to tell them about servant leadership.
When Jordan's St John's Preparatory School, in Joburg, began it annual collection of Easter eggs last year, he felt that nutritional food would be better appreciated, knowing that many children were going hungry.
He told the UFS graduates that he "just got a feeling in his heart" about it. "We always collected Easter eggs and I just thought kids might prefer something more nutritious (so that) when they went home they wouldn't be hungry. "My headmaster said it was a great idea. My friends arranged posters and bulk SMSes, and before we knew it, we had the first 5 tons."
Jordan's food drive, which he called "Just One Bag" after St John's headmaster Patrick Lees pledged to support the initiative, has earned him many "hero" certificates. He was featured in a KFC advert and has attracted much media attention.
LeadSA is honouring citizens who display a keen sense of community and embrace the virtuous principles the LeadSA brand represents. Potential Jordan was nominated by his friends and has been named LeadSA Hero of the Month in Gauteng. He might also be named LeadSA Hero of the Year in August when LeadSA celebrates its third birthday.
Jordan's mom, Lynn, says: "The mealie meal was cheaper than buying eggs anyway" The bags were stored in the school's library until a logistics company came on board to help distribute them. The mealie meal is sent to orphanages and old-age homes because the food is soft and easily digested. Jordan, who says his inspiration is Nelson Mandela, hasn't stopped at maize meal.
When a home he gave food to presented him with a wish list, he promptly called on the school to help him arrange sponsorship for its 67 minutes on Mandela Day. Jordan plans to keep going with his campaign and remains humble despite all the attention. He told the medicine graduates that one day he wanted to be like them.
Lynn accompanies Jordan on the handover trips - many to faraway destinations. "We are so proud of him and are there for him and his passion that no child should go hungry," she says. The school also held a "nonperishable drive" for the festive season.
Jansen heard about Jordan when the youngster won the philanthropy award at the Inyathelo Awards. He was shortlisted as a guest speaker and was an overwhelming favourite among the panellists. Jansen had never met the young man.
He was blown away, and said a sense of "we can do more" was created by Jordan's story "He is a highly talented and committed South African, he comes across as a very good speaker and smart in the sense of leadership capacity "He's still a kid, but on that podium he just transformed to this wise, balanced and measured man," said Jansen. He said he could envisage a leader in Jordan - perhaps in education or in the corporate world. He said he was happy that Jordan viewed himself as a kid, jumping around and being jolly after the graduation.
To nominate your LeadSA hero, visit wwvv.leadsa.co.za.