By Angelo de Klerk
TW: mention of rape
I interviewed Neo Cholo, a 16-year-old award winning author, who has also founded two youth organisations that tackle social issues.
Angelo: Neo, you’re an author, a speaker, and an entrepreneur, and you’re only 16 which is even more incredible. I’m a little curious to know about who you were before you earned these titles. You know, like, tell us a bit about your upbringing and how much family influenced the teenager you are now.
Neo: Uhm, I’m being brought up by my gran and my mom. So, I have been taught *gore most of the time. I have to do things for myself and always be the person who’s giving a thought on everything that I’m doing. So, being brought up by my mom and my granny helped me be able to do so many things as a young person. And not just as a young person, but at the age that I am right now. So, yeah, I’m being brought up in a good space, in a good environment where everything has been provided for me to be able to do all the things that I’m doing – running my two organisations, and also running a company.
Angelo: That is great, and, okay, apart from family, I know you’re from Mamelodi East. How much has that community influenced and inspired you today?
Neo: I’m living in a community where a boy child is being neglected and a boy child is always out smoking drugs and other things. So, being a boy who is so smart and doing things by himself and being an inspiration to young people has brought attention to me. People are always being there for me, supporting me financially and in other things that I require for these organisations. Not company wise but the organisations. So, as a boy child, it has helped me be able to know where I can go to when I needed help, especially at my school. Like at my school, they always provide things that I need for the organisation and also connecting me with people who can assist me.
Angelo: That’s beautiful to hear. Now, as an author, you’ve already published two books and you’ve been nominated for awards. What age did you start writing and what made you decide that “yeah, I wanna be a writer”, you know? “I wanna have books”.
Neo: [laughs] I started writing at 15-years, which was last year, because of the need of talking about issues that are affecting a lot of young people. Such as depression and other things that parents don’t usually talk to their children about. I lost my dad and I wanted to write about that, and how as a young boy I was able to overcome the kind of depression that came with losing a loved one. So, I lost him around 2014, which was when I was 9 years old. I wanted to communicate with parents, through my books, that you have to talk to your child despite age because we can be depressed. We can’t talk with you if you don’t talk with us, or if you don’t ask anything. So, I wanted to paint a narrative behind depression and show that even a black child can be depressed, because we don’t think that way, especially in the township. Like, we don’t think gore there’s depression. Like, we don’t think that. We are trying to avoid that every person can be depressed, and we need to talk about that because depression is something that is affecting a lot of young people at the moment, especially during a pandemic.
Angelo: You’re so right, and this would be discussed a lot in your book, The Journey, right? I heard it tackles the theme of depression. Before we go on to talk about your second book, what was the process of getting The Journey published?
Neo: The first book… I wrote a draft which I then sent to one of my friends who sent it to one of the publishers. So, I was sponsored to publish this book without paying anything, and I just covered the printing. So, it wasn’t something that was difficult because I wrote everything and then made sure it became a book and I only paid for the printing.
Angelo: You’re really privileged for that, man. Your second book is titled My scars are My Storybooks, and it’s a collection of short stories. What are some of the topics and themes that you discuss in these specific short stories?
Neo: Toxic masculinity, which is affecting a lot of young people. Especially boys in our townships. So, it talks about things like that and showing people that your problems or your issues are sometimes a blessing or a lesson. It depends on how your perspective is towards everything and your challenges. So, it talks about that and ensuring people that you have to tackle everything on your own as a person. Also, it discusses rape because boys don’t talk about those things and boys are being raped but aren’t able to talk about it.
Angelo: That’s deeply inspired and motivated. Outside of being an author, you’re also a speaker and an entrepreneur. Last year, you founded Teens with Vision, a youth empowerment organisation that deals with social issues such as poverty, education, and hygiene-related issues. Who helped you start this organisation and what was the inspiration behind its creation?
Neo: I started Teens with Vision with my friend, Letlhogonolo Phora. We started seeing that a lot of young people were struggling, and like, the foundation of fighting poverty has to start at home. So, we started Teens with Vision to be able to assist a lot of young people, especially from our schools. In Mamelodi, there are so many young people from disadvantaged families who aren’t able to talk to anyone about their struggles. So, we saw that and had to try to change perspective and show people that not only old people or adults have to be on the frontlines of fighting poverty, and that we too have to assist. As young boys, we are able to do this thing by contributing our own funds and by asking for donations from other people t0 be able to assist so many people. So far, we have helped around 300 individuals through our programs which are for sanitary pads.
Angelo: That is… that’s amazing! You’re clearly doing a lot with these organisations. I mean, I read that on your birthday you generously donated stationary and hygiene packs in Centurion. That was incredible, but tell us about the journey behind making that happen?
Neo: The schools were about to open, so stationary was important. Covid-19 really affected income in each and every family. So, households were going to be unable to purchase stationary for their children, especially dikolo dibulwa. So, I had to try make sure gore on my birthday I raise donations. I asked individuals and also organisations to assist me on raising donations for stationary. So, it’s a great motivation from me, because I saw that if I can do this each and every year, it can assist so many people – and according to my age. So, I was turning 16 and I was able to assist 16 children. It was a great thing to do.
Angelo: That’s so inspiring. You also recently launched the Neo Youth Empowerment Program. Tell us a bit about this program and what it aims to do, seeing as it’s still a new organisation.
Neo: The program is about assisting the youth. When I’m saying ‘youth’, I’m talking from 13 to 39 year olds. We are changing that narrative behind gore the youth is 15 to 35, because a lot of young people right now, at the moment re bala each and every person. So, having the Neo Youth Empowerment Program is about assisting the youth on having skills that will be assisting them in future, in generational futures. We are equipping them with skills in agriculture, digital, and entrepreneurship. We want to see young people taking their own opportunities and not waiting for any government or anyone to create opportunities for them. These skills will be able to assist them on making sure that they save their families and also people who are close to them. And on that note, the program aims to assist the government on decreasing the unemployment rate and also making sure that the youth in townships and rural communities are being taken into consideration for each and every opportunity because these opportunities aren’t given to each and every person. You have to pay to be able to be equipped with such skills and be able to pay in [future months]. So, our program is about making sure that each and every young person gets skilled without paying anything.
Angelo: I really appreciate that you’re out here doing such things. I’d love to close off the interview by just asking if you have any specific things that we can expect from you in the near future. Do you have any books or drives planned?
Neo: At the moment I’m busy with the company “African Namibia”. Which I think will assist a lot of people to build their brands and giving them a spotlight and a marketing platform to do anything they want to do using African Namibian. In terms of books, I think I will try to write an entrepreneurship book once I’m 24 years old.
Angelo: That’s respectable. Okay then, Neo, thank you so much. I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me and I wish you all the best in the future. I hope we get to see this book when you’re 24.
Neo: [laughs] Thank you so much.
*gore – translates to ‘that’.
To know more about Neo Cholo, you can find him on social media:
Facebook: Neo Gosiame Cholo (personal); Neo Cholo (public)