It may be rare these days to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but when postman Kosto Zahinda delivers a letter from Compassion, he can’t resist.
“When I see the words, ‘this is a letter from your sponsor child', I remember those days when we wrote our letters,” he said.
“I just encourage them and say, ‘you are doing a great job. You are giving future hope to those children’. Because I’ve been there, I was sponsored as well, and I know what I mean when I say no hope.”
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, Mr Zahinda was the 11th of 15 children.
After his father died, the family fell into severe poverty and would go days without food. The children would take off their shirts and lie on the cold ground to distract from the hunger pains.
He had been out of school for two years when his close friend, Oswald Basoka, received sponsorship through the Christian aid organisation Compassion. Oswald split the $20 a month between his brother Mike Matumaini and Kosto so the three could eat and attend school.
“Before going to school, they only thing we could think of was just food,” Mr Zahinda said.
“When we went to school, we started thinking there is this future. You can have a future. When the teacher teaches you think, ‘oh, maybe I can be someone else later’.”
Mr Zahinda said the main thing that gave him hope was the letters from the sponsor. The three boys would read them and take heart from her words saying ‘be strong’ and ‘you can make it’.
“You feel like, ‘oh, I can, I can, I can again’. That was the main thing that stuck in our mind.”
The outbreak of war interrupted Mr Zahinda’s schooling, forcing him to flee to the jungle. In the harrowing years that ensued, he was captured by the army and forced to bury rotting bodies.
In 1999 he and his friends fled to Rwanda, where they made a living as travelling musicians. They eventually moved to Uganda and then Tanzania, and found international acclaim as The Sowers Group.
Musical success brought the childhood friends to Australia on two tours. It was during the second, in 2011, when they decided to stay.
Oswald now lives in Newcastle with his wife, who works for the organisation that once sponsored him, and Mike is a pastor in Tamworth.
Mr Zahinda lives in Penrith with his wife – they have three children, and a fourth due in January.
From their home he runs an organisation called Youth Vision Promotion, which encourages young people to use their creative gifts for good.
He also loves his job with Australia Post, especially for the opportunity it gives him to encourage sponsors while delivering mail in Baulkham Hills.
“You may think you are doing just a good thing. No – you are doing the right thing,” he said. “You are saving lives.”