(CNN) -- The South African slum of Kliptown has long suffered from high rates of unemployment, crime and school dropouts, and the end of apartheid did little to change the situation.
But hundreds of children are starting to find hope thanks to Thulani Madondo, who is changing the community through education.
Madondo's nonprofit, the Kliptown Youth Program, provides free academic support, meals and after-school activities to more than 400 children living in the slum.
CNN asked Madondo for his thoughts on being chosen as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012.
CNN: What do you hope this recognition will mean for the Kliptown Youth Program?
Thulani Madondo: It means we can continue to grow as an organization, and it has helped us educate people about the life that we live here.
Kliptown is one of the very old communities around Soweto, but it's still lacking in things like schools, electricity, running water. We use communal bathrooms. But this doesn't stop the children in our program from continuing to believe in their dreams.
The recognition has also taught us that through hard work everything is possible, but it has also brought us a big challenge: We should always be working hard, because we will never know who is watching us!
CNN: What was the reaction when you found out you were a top 10 CNN Hero?
Madondo: KYP people heard me shouting, and they wanted to know what was happening. I immediately told them that we have made it! They went straight to the computers to double-check.
After that, we started singing our KYP songs, celebrating that we are part of history in the making for our country and continent.
Tears fell from my eyes, thinking how proud my mom was going to be seeing her struggle paying off to the nation. And I was then touched when a colleague said this achievement is dedicated to my late brother, Xolani Dube, who passed away in April.
CNN: How will you use the $50,000 award you receive for being selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?
Madondo: Our plan is to build a computer lab, provide school uniforms for the year 2013 and buy a solar geyser (to heat water) for our kitchen.
It will also help provide relevant training for our staff so that we can be more competent in the work that we do. We believe that is very important, so our team can also grow with the organization.
We want to strengthen the programs that we have, especially the tutorial program. We've been visiting a number of educational institutions around Johannesburg to see how we can strengthen it, what resources and skills we need. For us to succeed, we need to make sure our tutorial program is strong.
CNN: What do you want people to know most about your work?
Madondo: The most important thing that I would like people to know about KYP is that it is an organization that is community-needs driven, and it is led by the youth of Kliptown that want to break the poverty cycle that has existed for many decades.
This will be done through formal and nonformal education, where people will be empowered in things they are good at. ... We believe that if people are guided to what they are interested in, that is setting them up for success.
Read the full story on CNN Hero Thulani Madondo: Helping 'Kliptown' kids take control of their future