From drug addict to education activist: He rose from rock bottom to uplift others

From drug addict to education activist: He rose from rock bottom to uplift others

International Literacy Day – This is a story about a man who made a conscious decision to better himself and in turn, found a means to help others struggling in his community and enrich kids through early childhood development.

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“All it takes is one second to give someone hope for a better life.” These are the words of Paul Talliard. He knows how deep despair can go – and what it takes to climb out of it. For 35 years he suffered from a drug addiction, 15 of which he spent homeless. Talliard drifted between soup kitchens in Cape Town, bereft of dignity. But after a chance encounter with a kind stranger who gave him money to buy a meal, Talliard felt a glimmer of hope. His life could be different to this.

Approaching the supervisors at a soup kitchen, Talliard asked for help to get back on his feet. Through their support and others along the way, Talliard became sober. Spurred by his own experience of reclaiming self-worth, he founded a social enterprise in 2010. With Hands of Honour, he helps get men off the streets and working. Participants in the programme upcycle waste into useful objects like picnic tables and benches. Earning an income and crafting a purpose, they gain the chance at a new life. 

Talliard’s organisation has since evolved to innovate learning spaces for any environment. Adequate educational facilities are scarce in most of South Africa’s informal settlements. Talliard is changing that with Classroom on Wheels, mobile teaching units which include libraries, STEM stations, and puppet theatres. Assembled by the men of Hands of Honour, this invention ensures learning is not limited by resources or buildings. Because of Talliard, kids’ lives in over 80 early learning centres and children’s homes have been transformed.

Talliard took back power and agency over his life, uplifting countless others in the process. “Hope means maintaining an expectation of good things to come, in spite of the present circumstances,” he says. We all leave a legacy behind. Talliard is creating his as a stalwart of his community.

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