South African Philani Dladla was an avid reader growing up. The country boy's life was off to a good start until he moved to the big city of Johannesburg to find work. He found a job, but his employment was short-lived, because unfortunately, he also found drugs.
It didn't take long before Dladla lost everything and wound up living on the streets. But Dladla didn't want to simply beg for money.
"While living on the streets, I noticed how many beggars there were getting money for nothing on street corners," Dladla said in an interview with ONE. "I thought I could be different and actually give people something worthwhile – like a book or book review – in exchange for money."
He had a few books and he started to sell them, but only after giving would-be-readers a detailed review of the story. He even based his price on how much he enjoyed the book. Favorites went for about 80 South African rand (or $6), while he let go of books he didn't really enjoy for around 10 rand (less than a buck.)
He soon became known as the "Pavement Bookworm" and people donated books and spare change to support his business and hear his book reviews.
Dladla told ONE that it was all the motivation he needed to get off drugs and pull his life together. But rather than save his money and get off the streets, Dladla decided to share his fortunes with others.
"So I started using the money I got from selling books to buy everyone soup and bread everyday instead of spending that money on drugs," Dladla said. "Seeing their smiles motivated me to keep using the little I had to spread happiness. From that point on, I knew I never wanted to go back to being a drug addict."
He also decided that he wanted to help kids stay away from drugs and get hooked on reading, especially those without a lot of spare money for books. So he set up a book readers' club at the local park where kids can could go and talk about books while sharing stories about what's going on in their lives. Dladla also hands out free books for the kids to take home — on the condition that they come back and give him a review.
"They can still take this reading thing and turn it into their habit," Dladla said in a video interview with South African filmmaker Tebogo Malope. "Their lifelong habit."
It was Malope who introduced Dladla to the world in a series of video interviews that he posted on YouTube in which Dladla shares his thoughts on life, reading and some of his favorite books.
"You don't have to be rich to change the world," he wrote on Facebook. "Start with the little that you have. If you inspire one person you've already changed the world."
Philani Dladla is proof that you can't judge a book by its cover.