Let's teach children the value of 'ree-zil-lee-yince'
'Open your legs," demanded the gang of four would-be rapists of the young woman student they had ambushed one night on a dark road as she made her way home from classes.
The student refused.
One of the young men then drew a deep cut along her inner thighs. "Will you open now?" they asked.
Still she refused. After six or seven cuts , blood flowing down her leg and a knee pressed down on her chest to inhibit breathing, the student still resolutely refused to separate her legs.
"You can cut me," she said, "but you will not rape me."
The men eventually left and the student walked away proud that she had withstood this terrible assault on her body.
"Ree-zil-lee-yince." I drag out the word when I address my Grade 12 class in a school located in a dull, semi-industrial area on the south side of the city.
This is where I did my first early morning class at the beginning of the year for troubled youngsters denied by the other township schools. My team of experienced teachers came in before and after regular school hours to make sure these 76 children defy expectations and pass the coming examinations well.
"What does this word resilience mean?" I ask, not really expecting an immediate answer from children learning in their second or third language.
"It means withstanding, not giving up," says a young man.
Jacqui Middleton is one of my heroes. She is an experienced teacher already in her late 40s. She is married with children and they come from the rural area of Jacobsdal somewhere in the middle of the country.
When you meet Jacqui you sense a determination to suck all the marrow out of the soup bones of life. As a middle-aged black woman who did not always have opportunities for university study, she refused to settle into a quiet farming life with her husband.
She registered for two degrees, and as a first-year student shared a room with her daughter in a women's residence on campus.
Jacqui consistently scores distinctions in all her subjects; she revels in every university activity; she joined all the 18-year-olds from her residence for burgers, cupcakes and drumming lessons at my home last weekend.
She is getting her degrees, no matter what people say about this "old" woman in an undergraduate class. "Ree-zil-lee-yince."
Why would Lesego Shuping want to play rugby? She is a petite, young black woman in a wheelchair. When she rolls into my office I am scared because she carries herself with such quiet authority that she always gets what she wants.
"Prof, my boys (two huge white guys, also in wheelchairs) and I have been given the go-around by the university administration; they refuse to give us a hall to practise our rugby. How are we going to win if we can't practise? I want you to sort this out."
Not once does she mention their disability. She is, in her mind, just another student who wants the same access to the sports facilities as any other student. That certainly makes sense to me.
Five minutes later they are given the largest hall on campus for rugby practice. I can only imagine the frustrations a person in a wheelchair experiences in a school and society where everything is organised around able-bodied persons. "Ree-zil-lee-yince."
How do we teach children resilience?
First, by not giving them everything they want - especially when you have the means to give it. Children must learn from an early age that you work for what you want, even if that means simple things like washing the car or cleaning the neighbourhood.
Parents who simply give children things are not preparing them for how to think or behave when the chips are down; in a crisis, they will fold.
Second, by demonstrating how to behave in a crisis. A parent who rants and raves at the till or in a crowded parking lot in front of the children is offering a live lesson in how to behave when things do not go your way.
Third, by telling them heroic stories of the kinds shared today in this column. Give children a sense of a bigger world where people struggle daily to overcome great obstacles to living and learning. A heroic story moves a young mind in the right direction.
It's called "Ree-zil-lee-yince."