Amier is in Year 6 at Heilderveld Primary School in Cape Town. His father is just 36 and he is an addict. Amier is about to turn 12 and he lives with his grandmother. His life is going to need serious intervention if he is going to make it. Amier is lucky, because he participates in a weekly program at his school called 'Strength'. Some volunteers from the local church run the course, and it aims to build resilience, self-esteem, courage and a sense of hope and positivity in the lives of pre-teen boys. If these kids discover options other than drugs and gangsterism, they will be better equipped to face the many challenges that lie ahead.
"These boys think that a sign of success, proving that you are a man, is to make a girl pregnant and become a father" the volunteer pastoral care team worker told me. "This is why the Strength course is so good for them. I offered that they can try to look after my 2 kids for a couple of hours. Try being a dad at age 16. ...the vicious cycle just repeats from one generation to the next, they will dump the mother and kid within a few days."
The Deputy of Heideveld Primary School, agrees and is so thankful for the volunteers who come to his school every week. "We need more volunteers …Amier is working out his story because of the Strength program. He loves it, and he loves the fact that someone is interested enough by turning up for him each week." The school is grateful for the commitment and help of the volunteers. "We need to teach kids, but how can we when they come to school each day under such difficult circumstances."
The Deputy Principal, describes the issues that most of his students must face. Gangsterism, is huge. Young kids are given nice things, brand labeled clothes. Then they are asked to do errands and small jobs for the gang leaders. They are given some cash, kudos, and they find belonging in the gang. The jobs get bigger and become more dangerous, the free gifts stop and payment is demanded. The kids are trapped in the life of crime, violence and addiction that gangsterism demands. There is not much the school can do, when they must share one School Counsellor with 40 to 50 other schools in the local area. Amier's school has just less than 1200 students. And the Deputy tells me that he will soon move to a new school in a much tougher neighbourhood. I can’t imagine how tough that might be!
Amier is working out his story, he has a sense of hope and has a vision for a different option, a different story with new possibilities.
Last month I had the privilege of speaking at the BUILD South Africa Leadership Conference. I spoke about the influence of teachers in the lives of students. If we are going to build a nation, we must equip our teachers for the significant work that they do.
There was a good number of teachers attending the BUILD Seminar, and each one that I spoke to articulated passion for their work. They appreciated the affirmation and value that I placed on their skills and professional expertise. Perhaps more than this, they appreciated that I expressed how the work of a teacher is more than just teaching, it is about people and relationships. The teachers in the room were hungry for more. One teacher said "my hands are tied, ...I can't help my learners the way they need me to. But thank you Doug I feel like I am ready to start tomorrow as a new day with new purpose."