It’s already been a week since I have completed my 9th experiment as a Physical Education (PE) teacher at Grassy Park High School in the suburb Grassy Park in Cape Town. And while I’m in the middle of preparing and raising money for my charity challenge to hike up Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head in one day, I realized I didn’t write an update about Grassy Park yet…
Let’s back up a little bit.
Three weeks ago I met Hannah Overgaauw. We started chatting at a Dutch event, and we found out we share the same home town in Holland — small world. Hannah started a project called ‘Movement in Cape Town‘ over two years ago.
Her goal: Make PE a mandatory subject (which it wasn’t) on Grassy Park High School to teach kids social skills.
Hannah is simply remarkable. She pays for her own salary through her project, the kids love here, and she smiles all the time. When she asked me to help her, of course I didn’t hesitate to say yes!
The first morning I jumped on the back of Hannah’s motorbike and off we went to Grassy Park. Like I said, it’s a suburb of Cape Town. To put this into proper perspective, when I started telling others in Cape Town about my upcoming experiment, I would get weird looks. “Are you sure?”, “Be safe!”, and “Why go there, it’s dangerous”, were among the most common reactions.
To be honest, this made me nervous. Then, as advised by a friend, I started asking others when they were in Grassy Park for the last time themselves. Mostly, this was followed by a few seconds of awkward silence and a timid ‘I have never been there’ confession.
Being on the back of the motorbike I said to myself: “If Hannah survives for two years, I’ll probably last for four days..” So, with this comforting thought, and without a clue about what to expect, we arrived at school.
Before classes start all kids gather on the playground. Most of them dressed up in some variation of the school uniform. Because I’m a 6 feet 3 inch, blonde white guy, I did not really blend it with my looks, to say the least. The crazy consequence of that was that in a place where I didn’t know what to expect, within half an hour everyone greeted me using my first name: ‘Hi Kevin’! This blew my mind and made me feel very welcome. I couldn’t wait for my first PE class to begin.
Standing in front of a group of people you don’t know can be frightening. Having 40 students from a suburb of Cape Town in front of you, is a total different level of frightening. At first. I tried to look as confident as possible while explaining the first game. A tagging game. Like offline Facebook, I told them. They laughed at the joke, and the ice was broken…
During the week Hannah and me gave around 20 classes of PE, and I loved every single minute of it. Smiling kids having fun.
After my first day, I didn’t travel back with Hannah. Chantal, one of the graduate students, and her family agreed to have me over for two nights at their house in Grassy Park. To really experience what the area is like. On our walk from school to home, which was about 800 meters, only four calls pulled over to ask me who I was. Chantal assured me “this usually never happens”. I don’t know if that made me feel better, haha. But we made it home safely.
It was special to meet her family and experience how they live. So open, friendly and welcoming. I had millions of questions, but it was hard to ask them, because I got bombarded with questions as soon as I arrived. We spent most of my two nights chatting at the kitchen table.
The students get a lot of ‘motivational talks’ at school. Or actually lectures. Don’t smoke or you’ll end up being a criminal. Don’t be negative (where you could say: Be positive). And they’re drilled to believe teamwork and communication are the most important things to learn at school.
All graduate students had a motivational day on Wednesday. I got asked to do a motivational talk. And usually the above is not my approach.
To be absolutely clear, I’m not judging. I know now for a fact that these kids need structure. I told them about me being anxious to go to Grassy Park (they laughed at me). I told them about why I get out of bed in the morning. About following your curiosity. And about the importance of having fun. Then, after 10 minutes, I just opened up for questions. With the 150 of them packed in a small room, we had a great discussion. For me, it’s one of the most special talks I’ve done so far.
On my fourth and last day, it rained. Back at High School, my favorite game used to be cone soccer. So that’s exactly what we played. The day flew by and at the end of my final class, one of the students insisted on taking a group selfie:
“That’s so you can take us home with you, Sir…”
My biggest lesson learned at Grassy Park High School is that people are just people. Writing this down and reading it back, I know it’s the biggest cliche out there. If someone else would say it, I would shrug my shoulders and move on. But, what I mean is these kids are really awesome! And the only way to help them — or positively influence their future — is with actions. Like Hannah.
I fully realize there not many people like Hannah and do this. I totally get that. That’s fine. She chooses to be here. It’s not an obligation. We — everyone who is wealthy and healthy — have no idea what’s going on at place like Grassy Park. We say: “I can imagine..”, but seriously, we can’t.
But the thing I remember of Grassy Park High School is the laughter of students, who for 35 minutes are only busy having fun:
Hannah, what you’re doing in Grassy Park is admirable. You’re the role model these kids need. Like everywhere, deeds are more important then talk, and that’s exactly what you do. It was an honor being a part of this for a week, keep it up, and see you back ‘home’!
Still here? Tomorrow I’m going up the three peaks of Cape Town: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lions’ Head for charity. The goal is to find 500 people who are willing to donate 10 euro’s. I fall definitely short to reach the 5000 euro goal, but I — and Hospice Issoria in Leiden — are really grateful if you want to support us. Donating is possible through this link. Thank you so much!