Tears and hugs as brass band gives retiring principal a send-off to remember

2019-12-06 09:53
(Supplied by Lualdi Matthews)

(Supplied by Lualdi Matthews)

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Tears and hugs flowed in Graaff-Reinet last Friday as residents and a marching band walked retiring principal Edmond Carelse home.

Wending his way through a dusty footpath from Lingcom Primary School to his home in Kroonvale, Carelse sported a striped school blazer as residents walked and ran alongside him to the sound of hymns played by local musicians.

His daughter, Lualdi Matthews who also works for the education department, filmed the procession, while his other daughter, journalist Vauldi Carelse, tweeted a moving tribute to her father.

"Today, a brass band and the community walked my dad home from school…" she tweeted.

"His leadership is defined by doing things quietly in the background, he didn't need praise or recognition," she wrote.

"Even he has been stunned by the overwhelming gratitude displayed this week - his last week. My mom tells of all the kids he has helped who come over to her to say thanks.

'I'm about to burst, I'm so proud'

"Watching this made my eyes start leaking. I'm about to burst, I'm so proud. Proud of a father who raised me and many others. This from my mom: 'Ons harte het gebars en bloed trane het gevloei [Our hearts were bursting and we cried our eyes out]'.

"I remember my dad coming home from school one afternoon - bleeding. He was stabbed in his hand by a drug dealer trying to sell to his learners. The tears and outpouring of gratitude make sense, this man protected his school." 

In a second video of their father's "walk to freedom", Carelse's wife, Zabeth, is hugged at their front gate, and the tears continue flowing for the principal who made it his life's work to help the children and community realise their full potential.

Carelse has been at the school for 38 years, starting out as a teacher, being promoted to head of department and eventually principal. 

It is a quintile 3 section 21 school which means it serves a community grappling with difficult socio-economic conditions, so the school stretches what little income it gets.

Carelse's firm belief that you "lead from the middle" to be with people, and "from behind" to push people to be their best, has carried him through his career.

"They are spread all over the world," he says of the pupils who attended the school. 

'I think I started a little too late…'

One contacted him from abroad to tell him he had seen the video. 

"I am struggling now, to be honest with you. I think I started a little too late to detach myself from the school situation," he says wistfully of his love for the school, pupils, and new generations of teachers who are taking the baton.

He speaks fondly of his past pupils, and the generations who were shaped at the school as well as the responsibility of school staff to be their best.

"You are working with the most precious part of the body - the mind of a child," says Carelse.

He explains it is tradition at the school to accompany retiring staff home. Two weeks ago, his personal assistant, Moira Gerwel, was taken home in a hooting convoy when she too retired.

"I am very privileged because I lived my life in the community"

He knew something was up last Friday because people were asking him innocently how he was getting home, but he did not expect such a large procession with musicians from the school and suburb playing for him.

"I am very privileged because I lived my life in the community," he says.

His initial studies and training focused on art, but he quickly trained himself to teach all the subjects at school, switching from language to science with ease.

"As adults, we are given the honourable and central responsibility to take a child to his or her full potential."

To do this, Carelse could not ignore the tribulations of pupils.

When he got paid, he would buy spare stationery and school uniforms which he kept in his office.

'Give this to your mom, she will know what to do'

When he saw a child needed socks or a pen, he would call them in discreetly to not embarrass them, and quietly put it in their backpack with the parting words: "Give this to your mom, she will know what to do."

On Saturdays and holidays, he helped the community with tasks others might not think of. These included translating official government documents from English for the predominately Afrikaans-speaking community to help them with their administrative issues, or he drove people to the clinic.

"I was so busy really. Yho! I'm really struggling," Carelse laughs, as he contemplates not going to work next year.  

Just a WhatsApp away

He has offered to be just a WhatsApp away if necessary and will help follow up on getting the rebuilding of the school back on track. 

Up to 50 pupils are crammed into some of the prefab classrooms because a R67m project to rebuild the school has come grinding to a halt. It was established originally as a mission school for freed slaves and is sorely in need of remodelling, the last one being in the 1960s.

Carelse is hoping the new year will see construction resuming.

In the meantime, he is thinking about what he will do during his retirement. 

He will have more time for his beloved classical and fusion music, time to revisit his art, time to tinker around as an old-school "doer" who can weld or put a cupboard together when required, or even go on a cycling road trip to explore South Africa. 

"Or read a lot. I love reading."

Read more on:    education

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