Kyle Cato is not your average 17-year-old, having traded his weekends, holidays and free time to help others.
The Grade 11 Wynberg Boys’ High School pupil boarded a plane to Seattle this week to attend Operation Smile’s International Student Leadership Conference, from Monday July 16 to Sunday July 22.
Kyle, from Kenilworth, joined Operation Smile in 2016 and has been involved with the organisation ever since.
Operation Smile is a medical NGO that provides safe, effective and timeous surgery to patients born with cleft lip and palate.
Operation Smile spokesperson Sean Robson said Kyle had been a shining example of what they believed student philanthropy and leadership to be.
“He has taken on the role of advocate for our patients and the rights of all people to access safe, effective and timeous surgery.
“We are very pleased and proud to have nominated him to attend the International Student Leadership Conference and believe not only will he benefit from the experience but so will all the other students from around the world that he comes into contact with.”
Kyle said he was honoured to be selected for the conference.
“To be invited to the conference is an achievement in itself.”
Kyle has always had an interest in community service and has been member of the 3rd Pinelands Scout Troop for several years.
He was selected to represent South Africa at the 23rd World Scout Jamboree in Japan in July 2015.
It was there he saw how much recycling the Japanese do — which propelled him to start a recycling project at home.
Kyle started collecting bottle tops and struck a deal with a recycler to get a wheelchair for each load of bottle tops he collected.
He managed to collect more than 2000kg of bottle tops, which he used to buy eight specialised wheelchairs for children at Red Cross Children’s Hospital.
He completed his Bronze President’s Award in 2016 after completing 65 hours of service for various organisations.
During this time, he worked with Stop Hunger Now — packing meals for poor communities.
In 2016, he was also named the LeadSA Youth Hero for his community service projects. On this achievement, he said: “I think to make a great change is to devote your time and effort to do a good deed for someone or your community. Go out and do good, not for fame or recognition, but purely for goodwill.”
In 2017, Kyle was awarded the Messengers of Peace scout badge. He completed his Gold President’s Award in June.
During his time at Operation Smile, Kyle started three projects, including a recycling project with the organisation’s A Million Smiles Campaign, where he collected bottle tops and other plastics.
He also made and sold key rings to the tune of R28 000 and was part of a student team that held a fund-raiser at Ratanga Junction, where a portion of the ticket sales went to Operation Smile.
His mother, Cara, said she was proud of everything Kyle had achieved.
“He is not your typical teenager and has never given me any trouble. He is always busy planning his next project,” she said.
Kyle plans to continue to giving back to the community in whichever way he can, and hopes to join the South African Air Force after completing his matric next year.