Tikkun Olam for the selfie generation

  • HelpingLuthando1
It was a chance meeting that turned Chad Nathan’s life as a talented Instagram “self-influencer” into helping someone less fortunate who wanted much the same things as him.
by TALI FEINBERG | Jul 05, 2018

Until a few weeks ago, Nathan’s livelihood, self-worth, and sense of well-being came mainly from one source: himself. As a successful and talented Instagram “influencer”, his days revolved around taking photos and videos of himself and his activities, which he shared with more than 12 200 followers.

From this, he receives sponsorships, freebies, business opportunities, and the devoted following of fans from all over the world, who enjoy his exhilarating photographs and GoPro videos. “I’m living my dream,” says Nathan, but when he noticed a student of a similar age studying under a street light outside his Sea Point apartment in Cape Town, it made him stop and think.

“I first saw Luthando in March. He was sitting on the pavement by my flat, with papers and books spread out. Intrigued, I asked him what was up, and he said he was studying there, as it was too unsafe and noisy to do so in the townships. He also enjoyed the ocean, and watching people walking past. He said he was studying for a tourism diploma as he had excelled in those subjects at school, and dreamed of being a tour guide one day. I gave him something to eat and some money, and left it at that.”

Nathan went overseas, and when he returned in June, he once again saw Luthando studying under the street lamp. By now, it was winter – cold and dark – and in that moment, Nathan saw the light. He wanted to help this man – and he knew just how to do it. He could tap into his Instagram following, and if each person contributed, they could change Luthando’s life.

After inviting Luthando into his flat to get warm and have something to eat, Nathan did just that. He posted an Instagram “story” (an informal video that disappears after 24 hours), sharing his new friend’s tale, and asked everyone viewing it to contribute the cost of a cup of coffee to support him. With the tools at his fingertips, he then created a BackaBuddy crowdfunding platform, and the donations came pouring in.

“My phone basically blew up with messages, and offers of help. People wanted to donate stationery, office space, money, and just give their support. Within six days, we raised more than R36 000, and it’s still going up,” says Nathan, who is in awe at how effortless and rewarding the experience has been. He says he is fortunate that many of his mentors, international Instagrammers with thousands of followers, shared his message. Many of the donations came from overseas.

“The #helpluthando hashtag trended on Instagram and well-known brands pitched in. Cape Union Mart donated a windbreaker, and ProFind Sports donated two pairs of shoes that Luthando desperately needed. A dentist even gave him a free check up!”

Both Nathan and Luthando are 25 years old, but they have had completely different lives. “Life has been relatively easy for me. When I was little, I dreamed of going to space. When Luthando was little, he dreamed of being adopted by a white family so that he could have a bright future. That was just earth-shattering for me,” Nathan says.

As the days went by, Nathan used his talents to make powerful videos sharing the story, including drone shots and music. He also took Luthando to Chapman’s Peak – a dream for the aspiring tour guide – and shared it with everyone who was rooting for him.

“Instagram is all about ‘me, me, me’, but for once, it wasn’t about myself. I could use social media to make a difference,” says Nathan. Unbelievably, he lost about 350 followers while sharing Luthando’s story, but gained many more. He explains that Instagram is all about creating perfectly curated visual images to gain as many likes as possible, so breaking the mold was risky, but completely worth it.

Nathan plans to help someone in a similar way every few months, and is going to encourage others from the Instagram community to do the same. The Jewish values of Tikkun Olam (healing the world) and chesed (kindness) have come to life for him.

What’s next for Luthando? Nathan will ensure that the money raised is safeguarded and invested, and will use it to help him find accommodation (he is sleeping at the Haven Night Shelter) and to cover basic needs. Nathan also wants to help Luthando to get an internship in the tourism industry. “Ultimately it’s about teaching a man to fish. I want to help him get on his feet to support himself.”

The experience has changed his outlook. “I always took my studies for granted, and here is someone sitting out in the freezing cold, studying the whole day to get his qualification. Many people messaged me saying, ‘I’m sitting here studying for an exam I really don’t care about, in a warm house drinking tea, and suddenly, I am so grateful after hearing Luthando’s story’.”

The experience has also been empowering for him. “Now, Luthando calls me ‘Batman’, and I’ve been able to change his life!” Sometimes South Africa’s problems can be so overwhelming, they can have a paralysing effect, leaving us not knowing where to start, Nathan says. This experience has shown him that “helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person”.

For Nathan, South Africa’s future looks bright. He has managed to achieve his dreams, and use the same platform to improve the world. “Social media is the future. We can use it to do good. My goal is to travel, make epic videos, get paid for it, and help those in need at the same time. I think that’s pretty damn cool!”

  • To contribute, go to If you are able to assist Luthando to get an internship in Cape Town, email Chad on [email protected].


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