During one of my lessons I heard a weird sound. I paused, looked around and considered whether some learners were playing a joke on me.
But the sound continued. Everyone looked stunned – I thought I could see sadness in their eyes. I asked a girl in the front row what the sound was. Without saying a word she pointed a finger towards the last desk in the next row.
I moved towards the desk and there he was – Jabu*, lying on the floor, fast asleep. I leaned towards him and, whispering, ordered him outside. I followed and after asking a few questions I deduced that the boy was emotionally troubled and needed immediate attention. I quickly went to the school principal to ask for permission to call our social worker. When she heard the matter was urgent she came as fast as she could.
The social worker asked Jabu some questions in front of the principal and me. Listening to him relate his ordeal was like listening to a melancholy song. Apparently the boy was an orphan who used to stay with relatives, but after a year he was chased away from home. He ended up staying at a tavern, where he offered to help sell liquor in exchange for food and shelter. This was the reason he felt sleepy during the day – he was always busy working at night.
We tried in vain to get his relatives to come to the school. At that point I realised I had to take some blame for not being able to pick up signs of abuse from the poor 15-year-old, who had been subjected to ill treatment for months. I felt I had failed him and that made me as guilty as his abusers.
I interrupted the social worker’s conversation with Jabu: “I’m taking him in. Yes, I’m taking the boy to my place.” My words were met with a deafening silence.
After a few seconds I could see a spark of excitement lighting up his face. He gave a broad smile, which, in a way, erased the agony visible in his eyes. I asked that we deal with the paperwork later, after Jabu was safely home.
Arriving home I could soon hear him laughing and chatting to my children just as any other boy of his age would. Part of me felt inner peace, but at the same time I was battling with my guilty conscience. I regarded myself as an ignorant teacher who had failed to know her learners properly. But I realised that wallowing in self-pity would not help me or Jabu. I vowed to fill the space left by his mother, although I knew I would not replace her.
Since that day Jabu has become a part of my family. I support him both emotionally and financially, in the same way I do my biological children. I never thought someone’s life could change in a single day, but it did, for both Jabu and me.
* not his real name
Dolly Seroke is a teacher at Bakgofa Primary School in Ledig Village, Rustenburg, North West