One small bag makes a big difference

Jordan van der Walt’s campaign is now two years old and has helped to feed thousands of children.

Prof Jonathan Jansen and Jordan, one of his mother’s favourite photos
(Images: Lynn van der Walt)

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Lynn van der Walt
   Jordan’s mother
   +27 82 608 0199

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He’s only 12 years old and has already picked up several awards for his philanthropy. He’s Jordan van der Walt and his initiative has fed a million hungry tummies in two years.

Jordan, a pupil at St John’s Preparatory College in Houghton, Johannesburg, started a school feeding campaign called Just One Bag back in March 2011, which has seen 100 tons of South African food staple mealie meal delivered to schools all over the country.

It started after calls for the annual Easter egg collection to be made at the school – the donations would be delivered to underprivileged schools. But Jordan had a better idea – based on a documentary he’d seen stating that three-million children in South Africa go to school hungry each day, he felt that Easter eggs wouldn’t make a difference to those children and suggested to his principal, Patrick Lees, that instead of Easter eggs, perhaps each boy could bring a bag of mealie meal instead.

Lees didn’t hesitate. Posters went up around the school, reminders were written in diaries, and bulk text messages were sent out. In just a few weeks five tons of meal were collected.

Lees then challenged other schools in Johannesburg to join the campaign. “The response was overwhelming,” he said on Cape Talk radio.

By the end of 2011 50 schools had committed to Just One Bag, 30 of them in Johannesburg, involving 30 000 children.

It wasn’t long before the big food chains, like Spar and Pick n Pay, got involved, delivering truckloads of meal to the school. Soon truck companies came to the party and distributed the food to schools.

Young philanthropist

“Jordan has the biggest heart and he really cares for everyone. I am so proud of him and we are very honoured to have Jordan at St John’s,” said Lees.

In 2012 the youngster received the Inyathelo Award for Children in Philanthropy, given by the South African Institute for Advancement, a non-profit trust promoting philanthropy. He said when accepting the award: “My project came about because of a feeling that I had in my heart, and when it comes to giving or helping, I believe that feeling is important – it has to come from within. We can think and devise all sorts of nice things to do for people, but if they don’t come from the heart, I feel that they are meaningless.”

Jordan’s mother Lynn says he just wanted to show that children can make a difference. “He doesn’t understand the big fuss when you are helping children or people with food. How can we award people for giving?”

She says Jordan has always been a generous child, giving to those less fortunate at every opportunity. “He is just a very loving, giving person. We are proud of him.”

Television and radio appearances followed, and in December 2012 Jordan was named LeadSA’s Hero of the Month. LeadSA is a Primedia initiative, launched in August 2010, that encourages South Africans to “make a difference, do the right thing, stand up.”

“It’s taught me that giving is supposed to be part of life and that we should all give and that no matter how big or small your idea is, always go and talk to an adult or your headmaster and tell them about your idea,” Jordan told Talk Radio 702’s John Robbie in an interview, just after receiving his Lead SA award.

In December 2012 he was invited to talk to the University of Free State‘s medical graduates by its distinguished vice rector Prof Jonathan Jansen.

He nervously stood in front of 3 000 students and said: “And so my challenge to you wonderful and talented graduates is to go out into South Africa and serve. Do it from the heart because you have a feeling inside you that makes you want to serve. Don’t do it for me, don’t do it for anyone else, do it for yourself because your heart tells you to.”

He told them not to think that because they were now doctors, their role was to “become rich, drive fancy cars and live in big houses”. Instead they should be thinking differently about being a doctor. “The only way that you are going to enjoy it and live a fulfilling life is if you want to take on the profession for the right reasons and you do it with your heart.”

Children helping children

In April 2012 Jordan was invited to speak to three schools in Bloemfontein, Free State. He told the pupils: “We can change the world for the better, even if it’s just the little girl or boy who you see every day on your way to school playing in the dust and being forced to beg for money or something to eat, make them an extra sandwich, donate your old clothes and toys and think for just one minute how you would feel if you had to go without many of the luxuries we all too often take for granted.

“Children helping children, let’s show South Africans what we can do, let’s take a stand and make a difference.”

Jordan says modestly when asked about the response to his drive: “I wasn’t expecting so many people to help with the project. Thank you for helping me.”

Asked about being famous, he says: “I don’t feel it should be about me and being famous. All I want to do is to help children.”

On the future of the campaign, Jordan says he wants “more children to help children”.

His main ambition is to become a lawyer, but also to play sport.