In 2013, while homeschooling my daughters, I met two orphans at a local township. Through a process, the boys were placed in the Khayalethu Boys home in Port Elizabeth. When we first met, they were totally illiterate and I home schooled them with my daughter for two years. They were bright and willing to learn. Part of our day was robotics and eventually the director of Khayalethu asked if I would teach all the boys in the centre’s home school class.
This started one of the most emotional and fulfilling journeys in life that I am still on. I believe that every child has a key to unlock their potential. But the key for every child is different. At the time I started with the Khayalethu boys, I was already coaching a team that had represented South Africa in robotics at an international level. I deliberately chose to integrate four teams together for the coaching. One a homeschooling team from Jefferies. One a high school team from a local Afrikaans school, one the Khayalethu boys and the last team, my SA representatives. We worked through the components of the robotics competition event as a large group. I had to adjust my facilitation style dramatically. To some teams I could say, “Work out the circumference of the robot’s wheel and divide the distance to be covered by that number to find our rotation input.” To the Khayalethu boys I would say, “Choose the
number of times the wheel must turn and if the robot falls off the table on the other side, you know you need a smaller number.”
It was not only the gaps in life experience and education that was a challenge. The emotional component was always a stressor that had to be handled differently. Robotics is stressful and FLL calls their event, “The most difficult fun you will ever have.” For most teams this means conflict and tantrums but for ex street kids, it can mean an all-out punching episode. I had to work with this. I had to pull boys off each other during team building sessions. I had to wait for members to come out of rehab or be released from detention.
At the day of the competition, the boys rose to the occasion and although they did not feature in all the categories, they beat my SA team on the score of the robotics table! At a debriefing, I asked the Khayalethu boys what they had learnt from doing robotics and the one answered, “Ons is nie so rubbish nie.” (Translated: We are not just useless rubbish)
It is moments like this that the New High Trust works for. Moments to help learners find a key to unlock
their potential and to discover worth, that has never been unlocked before.