Before he was even a teenager Athenkosi Fani battled alcohol addiction, but the youngster who beat his demons, becoming a finalist in the GM Herald Citizen of the Year competition, completely turned his life around – and now his transformation has led to an invitation to New York.
The 20-year-old, who at the age of 10 turned to the bottle due to an abusive home life, has been invited by the Rhinebeck Lions Club of New York to attend an international conference in July. Fani, who lived at the MTR Smit Children’s home from the age of 16 until finishing school, star ted giving motivational talks and getting involved in charity initiatives in 2012.
Other achievements include being crowned Mr Teen Eastern Cape, serving on the Junior City Council and speaking out about the difficulties children face daily, while representing the Eastern Cape at the annual National Youth Conference.
He also assists struggling students with schoolwork. The Rhinebeck Lions Club picked up on Fani through a National Association of Child Care Workers conference held in Johannesburg. Fani has attended twice – in 2013 and 2015.
There, he met Frank Mulhern, who later recommended him to the club. Fani, who admits to a turbulent adolescence, said: “Because of the situation at home I had to grow up really quickly and be an example for my two younger siblings.
“At some point I wanted to give up [and] I turned to alcohol and used it as my escape but realised that wouldn’t take me anywhere. “I pushed myself and told myself that I could make something of myself no matter what the circumstances. Once I started doing things such as charity and motivational talks I realised that there was a need for such.
“I realised that there are many young people my age who are going through the same things that I went through. “They just need someone to help. I also realised along the way that by helping others, I was basically also helping myself.”
Fani said he was thankful for the opportunity to attend the conference in New York where his accommodation and living expenses will be covered. He must cover the airfare himself and is furiously working towards raising enough money so he does not lose out on the oppor tunity. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity that I have been given.
I am grabbing it with both hands. It is proof to me God is always looking out for His people,” he said.
In a letter sent by the Rhinebeck Lions Club, the club said they would like to recruit Fani because of the work he had done in the community and towards youth development. MTR Smit social worker Annelie van Rooyen spoke glowingly of Fani, who she said deserved the opportunity.
“Athenkosi has always been a driven person. He is a go-getter. “He has never been the one to wait for things to happen, he makes things happen.
“He knows how to make good use of resources in order to achieve his goals. “Through his involvement he portrayed strong leadership skills. Here at MTR Children’s Home we wish him nothing but the best. I know he can do anything he sets his mind to.”
- In the print version of this article the incorrect photo was used to accompnay the story. Weekend Post regrets the error.