Dawn ‘Maduma’ Leppan was raised in Drummond by her grandparents who owned a restaurant in the area. Her home has always been on the edge of that enormous valley with its great views over a thousand hills, and calls the surrounding community her extended family; a family she has cared for from a young age, having delivered her first baby at just 16 years of age.
During the late 1980s, Dawn’s eyes were opened to the strife and devastation occurring among families in the local community of the Valley of 1000 Hills, caused by both the political unrest and natural disasters such as flooding. In 1989 she was inspired to start a community feeding program for those in need, where she served meals from the back of a bakkie under a tree. Before long Dawn saw the need to do more, and secured a site for an infant wellness centre under the eaves of a local church. This evolved further, as five nursing sisters and a paediatrician volunteered their time to help serve the community. Dawn’s vision did not stop here; she wanted to do more. After land donated by a local school became available, the Thousand Hills Community Helpers Centre broke ground for a new home in 2008. Her first priority was to build a safe haven for the children of the community, who were exposed to violence and crime. Today this crèche and school accommodates 350 students who are orphaned or vulnerable, ranging from newborn up to Grade R, ensuring these children receive two nutritious meals daily and a solid foundation ahead of starting junior school.
Following the school, a kitchen was built, which now accommodates a permanent feeding scheme providing two meals a day, five days a week to those in need. Dawn’s next task to be completed was the fully equipped and voluntarily staffed clinic, pharmacy and 4×4 ambulance, available 24 hours every day, which has made health care accessible to the community. In spite of all her efforts, Dawn was aware that further education and basic care for adults was also lacking in her community. As a result the Home Based Care programme was started, training volunteer social workers tasked with educating and helping with basic health at a home level within the community.
Dawn’s hub of hope also facilitates many skills development programmes acting as catalysts for employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. Profits of the crafts sold are invested back into craft supplies and the local community who made the crafts. The centre also offers Adult Basic Education Training. Her work has been acknowledged by numerous awards and tributes.