[OPINION] The journey of Mpho & the kindness of a stranger

You've seen them before. Whether it's on the corner of Jeppe and Nugget Street in Johannesburg, Grayston Drive in Sandton or Burgers Park in Pretoria, you probably see them every day.

I am talking about homeless people. Some refer to them as hobos or beggars, but you get my drift.

You would likely have had an encounter with them, perhaps as they ask you to help with food, clothes or money (most of the time R2).

This is the story of a man simply known as Mpho from Limpopo who has been away from home for 10 years and living on the streets of Johannesburg.

Why should you care? Well, because he is not just a hobo or homeless man, he is a person, he has a story, a past, family and friends, and we sometimes forget that.

In 2014 one of my colleagues met Mpho at Park Station when he got off the Gautrain and Mpho asked him for R2. Admit it, when someone asks you for money in the street, based on the way they look, you already judge them, thinking they might rob you or are on drugs.

Anyway, my colleague gave him R5, but "felt bad that he could only give him R5", so he asked Mpho to wait for him at the same place the next day so that he could give him more.

Keeping his promise, he met Mpho the next day and gave him R50. He quickly left and that was the last time he saw Mpho.

Fast forward to 2016 when my colleague dropped his wallet at Park Station and was without it for a week. We all know what a wallet contains, basically your whole life: bank cards, ID, driver's license and so on.

My colleague (left) and Mpho outside Park Station

In a bizarre coincidence Mpho found his wallet and looked for my colleague daily until he found him and gave it back to him. Everything was the way it was, even the small change in the wallet.

Mpho refused to take more money from my colleague, citing the R50 he gave him two years earlier.

"You've done enough for me. On that day when you gave me that R50, you've no idea how that helped. Living on the streets isn't child's play, but it's people like you who give me hope."

My colleague has since helped Mpho get his ID from the Home Affairs Department and bought him new clothes to finally go home and be reunited with his family in Limpopo.

Mpho arrived home after 10 years of being away with no contact. He arrived home to a tearful but happy mother and brother.

While writing this story I couldn't help but remember a UN experiment about children living in poverty.

The experiment was documented as a video where a little girl goes out on the streets of Georgia on two occasions where she is groomed and dressed in two different ways.

In the first instance, she is dressed neatly in a dress, a pink coat and boots. She stands in the street and different people approach her, thinking that she is lost and want to help her. People start asking for her name, whether she is lost, where she lives and whether they can help her.

In the second instance the same girl is made up to look dirty and scruffy. She is wearing an old orange hat tilted to the side of her head, an oversized brown jacket, ankle length purple pants and visibly dirty shoes.

I was saddened to see how people treated her differently based on her appearance. They walked past her, ignored her and in one instance she was told to go away.

I was surprised and disheartened to see that we still judge and treat people differently based on the way they look, but I have hope (as I smile).

My colleague has given me hope and encouragement that it is not all bad. Good people are still out there (and in the office) and it is up to each of us to find that goodness and run with it.

Refilwe Pitjeng is a social media producer at Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter: _ @refsheric_