Mary Khikhe Mhlanga's love for community work began in 1989 when she started a creche under a tree for 40 children from her Middelplaas village in Mpumalanga.
Mhlanga, 68, is the 2008 Old Mutual SABC and Sowetan community builder of the year.
Last week she received a trophy and R50000 for her selfless dedication to uplifting her community.
This year is the 18th edition of the initiative that was started by the late Aggrey Klaaste, a former editor-in-chief of Sowetan.
"It is in my heart to help the poor," Mhlanga says. "The children came from all over the village and their parents worked on the farms in the area.
"We only ate soft porridge for breakfast and lunch, made from mealies that we asked farmers to give us," Mhlanga said.
After caring for the children for five months under a tree she asked a nurse, Sister Themba, who worked at the Shongwe Hospital, five kilometres from her home, for food parcels.
The creche grew and soon became a school - and the children's second home.
To some of the children the meal Mahlangu provided at school was the only one they got for the day.
With her Standard 9 (Grade 11) Mhlanga ran the school as well as taught for the first two years. Later she managed to get two teachers who volunteered their time to teach the children.
When Mhlanga received R64000 from the Independent Development Trust (IDT) she used it to build two classrooms, a kitchen, an office and a storeroom.
In 1998 the IDT gave her R50000. She used it to start the development project Vulindlela Aged Group.
Vulindlela employs 86 local women to make low-cost bricks and tiles, which are given to the community.
"I thank God for all He has helped me to do and I hope this initiative continues giving recognition to people who make sacrifices for others," Mhlanga said.