Lester

Lester

I came to St Hostel on the 1st April 1982, along with Keith Mouton. We were both being shipped out from Tenterden in the same vehicle by the same social worker, and Keith often told me that he was the first one out of the car, thus beating me by a few seconds. How young and foolish we were back then, and upon reflection - how delightful it was too. Being placed at St Johns Hostel was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

Especially after considering how much suffering I had endured at Tenterden, which has an ironic motto saying "Place of Safety" where in fact the carers there were more strict than my own parent. I was taken away from my mother because she abused me physically, only to be placed in a prison for minors where the carers walked around with canes so that they could give you a good thrashing at any opportune moment. Not only was discipline obviously a huge issue, but there was an insanely huge language barrier for me too, since most of the staff and children spoke Afrikaans - which was not my native language. How much Afrikaans does an 8 year old boy who has been brought up by an English family speak? That's right - none.

I can't remember when Keith joined Tenterden, but it was probably a few months after I had gone there. Naturally, he too was a bit frightened, and instantly got picked on by the other boys because he was the new kid on the block and I remember him bawling his eyes out. By chance, our beds were next to each other so I was closest and thought it was my duty to comfort him. From there on we were chums.

And there we stayed - from late 1981 (can't remember exact date, but I do know that I spent Christmas there) through to April 1982.

We got to St Johns, and the social worker took us to our relevant houseparents. Due to the numbers, Keith was placed in Bergzicht, so he got taken to Mrs Smith, and I was introduced to Aunty Ursh. I soon learned that Bergzicht and Zeezicht were huge rivals, but Keith and I somehow never became such. We shared a bond that couldn't be broken by petty rivalry.

I made new friends in Zeezicht - although I found that hard because I was so much "different" than some of the other boys there. I didn't smoke, I wasn't naughty, and I was in some cases seen as a bit of a freak. "Freak of nature" is what I was referred to by my schoolmates. I didn't win any popularity contests by having a serious bed-wetting problem either. But I survived. Despite being picked on by some of the boys, I never truly got beaten up. I've never had a black eye, and the most I've ever done is play fight with Barry (one of my closest friends in St Johns). I had many brothers - some were nice and some were nasty, but you get that in normal families too.

Being a hostel boy had advantages. Nobody OUTSIDE of St Johns Hostel would ever dare boss me around, because they knew I was a hostel boy. We were like a gang - you mess with a hostel boy and you'd be in trouble! Bully a hostel boy and 5 will come and pay you a visit. Have friends? Didn't matter, I had 31 brothers, and another 32 on call. We stood united - we were family.

1982 was a truly interesting year for St Johns. Some people had come in to try to make a change with the way that things were being run, and I remember Auntie Ursh and Uncle Vic calling us in to their home because they had to tell us that they were asked to leave St Johns. Mr and Mrs Smith were also asked to leave, and the boys were not happy. Somebody was trying to break up our family, and the boys made their voices heard. The next day saw newspaper clippings of boys rioting and breaking windows (which, was actually true), and it took a few months for the dust to settle, and the people who made their bad decisions forced to reverse it. Luckily for Zeezicht, Aunty Ursh was still available to come back, but unfortunately for Bergzicht, Mr and Mrs Smith had already moved on. They got new houseparents though, and the assistant carer, Meryl Fleischer, was still there. She'd be there until the day the hostel closed.

St Johns gave me a lot more opportunities I would not have had at my own home, due to financial difficulties. There, I learned to play the Piano, and after I got introduced to the Apple II computer that was kindly donated by some people - my whole life changed for I had found my true calling. I had turned from freak into geek, or "fundi" as some people called me - and rightfully so. I wouldn't say that St Johns responsible for me choosing a career in computers. I believe that people find their true calling one way or another. The fact that St Johns helped me find my true calling so early on in my life is however a very valid point, because I was writing computer programs when I was just 11 years old. I remember getting a book in Apple Basic, and writing my own little applications. I remember having to compete for computer time against Eric Stromsoe and Colin Brooks. Time fixed that problem, because when they left St Johns, I had no more competition.

There I stayed - from a 9 year old in 1982 until I turned 18 in 1991. While I was "legal" age and no longer required to stay at St Johns Hostel, the standard practice at the time was to allow the boys to finish their schooling, so this is what I did. Unfortunately, the hostel had grown so small (in numbers) by this stage, it was decided that the hostel would close down. It did this, halfway into the year of 1991, leaving a handful of boys needing to take refuge elsewhere. Kevin Lind and myself were given grants to go and stay with Michael Bryan and his wife Wil in their home in Tamboerskloof, and Tino went to stay with Meryl, who was the last carer looking after us.

And thus ended St Johns Hostel's legacy. I legacy I am very proud to have been part of. Auntie Ursh and Uncle Vic have a place in my heart, and will have until the day I die. I have fond memories of Hugh Waterson, David Harrison and Brent Hicks. I still remember Mr Du Toit well, and of course my roommates and closest friends at St Johns.

I hope your memories of Sinjins is as fond as mine.