everyday heroes

Tell us about your hero.

If you’d have asked me only a few years ago, say two or three, who my hero was, I’d have said <insert generic name from popular culture or someone really esteemed depending on who I was trying to impress>.

Truth is I have met some damn amazing people in my short life. When I was in primary school Nelson Mandela came to my school to donate computers to us. I sang “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika” in the choir for him, and he shook my hand. That was my first brush with greatness. Later in high school I was asked to represent my school at a debate alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu and my favourite Afrikaans poet since I could read, Antjie Krog. Of course, being an Avril Lavigne/Eminem obsessed teenager at the time, the experience was wasted on my youthful arrogance. I met both of them again on separate occasions at university, and I appreciated the wonder of it better then.

But my true heroes are my teachers, especially my English and Afrikaans teachers. I have no words to express my gratitude for them taking an interest in me, encouraging me to read and write, and shaping my consciousness that has formed who I am today. They went above and beyond their job requirements to make sure I was nourished in body and mind.

In the 8th grade I represented my school at a national oratory competition far from home. My elderly English teacher and debating couch embarked on the long overland bus trip with me to the destination. The morning of the competition was also my birthday. I woke up and took a shower. When I came out of the shower my black honours blazer was spread out neatly on the bed. I’d received my honours a few months before, but I couldn’t afford the jacket with the seal on it. She bought it and surprised me with it, and it was the best birthday ever. I also won the competition, not so much that I was the best, but because I really felt that people believed in me. I haven’t felt that good since then.

Throughout my life I was blessed with dedicated teachers who saw something in me and wanted to help me be what they saw in me. I wasn’t always grateful, it was a stormy childhood into adolescence, and adulthood hasn’t proven to be that great either. But if it wasn’t for those unsung heroes, who knows where I would have been today? For that I am most humbly grateful.

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