Luke Koeries knows how to connect with the youth of Ocean View. He is the founder of an NPO that focuses on youth development, but what makes him unique is that he is a teenager himself…

Koeries was only 17 years old when he started Kids are Kids, an organisation aimed at keeping youngsters away from gangsterism, drugs and other social ills.

Based in Ocean View, a low-income neighbourhood about 40km from Cape Town, Koeries (now 19) hopes to show the children from the densely populated suburb that there is more to life than the bullets, bloodshed and addiction they are faced with every day.

“I want to show young people that you can remain positive and make better choices, even if you are surrounded by violence and bad things in your community. My aim is to keep children off the streets and focused on good and constructive activities,” he explained.

He is following in the footsteps of his father, a policeman who died of lung disease when Koeries was only nine years old.

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“My dad did lots of outreach in the community. He loved what he did. That motivated me to start something to benefit others, just like him,” Koeries said.

Tapping into his own youthfulness, he focuses on entertaining ways to keep young minds occupied. Through gaming activities and sport, he tries to steer as many children as he can toward doing better and making positive life choices.

Koeries sees his age as a strength, not a hurdle

“I am young so the children relate to me. They see my determination to make this community better and want to do that too,” he said.

“I am able to work with other organisations and businesspeople who take me seriously, because they see I do this from the heart. I have a purpose, and that purpose is helping the kids.”

He considers himself fortunate to have been raised by a mother who did her best to provide for six children after her husband’s death.

“But there are children who don’t have even one parent, who go to bed hungry and don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. There has to be a way to make life easier for them.”

He often travels with pots full of stew or soup to every corner of his community, feeding hungry children before they enjoy a few hours of frivolous fun.

No cameras or photos are allowed when the children tuck in, Koeries insists. The children do not want others to know that they were going hungry, he said, Their dignity is more important to him than a few pictures as proof of the good work he is doing.

Koeries – a part-time DJ, photographer, volunteer fire fighter and medic – is determined to live his own life as an example that no matter how young, everyone can play a role in community upliftment.