Street clean up – serving the community, and learning important lessons

At Jeppe we believe it’s very important that the boys are kept busy. Teenagers sometimes get up to no good when they have too much time on their hands and that’s why the emphasis in all our extra-curricular programmes, sporting and cultural, are on mass participation and sizeable time commitments.

The restrictions brought about by the Covid pandemic have limited the things that can be done, however, and with the sporting programme being put pretty much on hold at the moment, the hostel staff have found themselves with 300-odd boys who, frankly, have too much time on their hands.

And that planted the seed of an idea in the mind of our director of boarding, Mr Bryan Hillock. “I live on the school property and have been bothered, for a long time, by the piles of litter in the streets surrounding us, and by the state of the pavements,” he said. “Then I saw on social media the work being done by the Clean Village 2094 residents association in cleaning up around Kensington, and I realised we can kill two birds with one stone – we can give the boys some much-needed physical activity, and we can upgrade the area that we live in.

”He had to get the approval of the school leadership, Mr Hillock explained, and he had to get the buy-in of the boys. “Picking up litter has traditionally been a type of punishment and we had to emphasise that this is not that. We were hoping that we could get the boys to see it as a community service, and that they would take pride in what they were achieving. They did see it that way and the positive feedback we are getting is rubbing off on them and making the hard work they have put in worthwhile.”The school has been very enthusiastic about the project. “They have given us equipment, bought gloves for the boys and supplied vehicles to cart off the bags we filled,” Mr Hillock said.

We asked two of the Sable House boarders what they thought of it all and their response was very positive. “I guess we could have said no to it,” said Sifiso Bhulana, “but you can’t say no to Mr Hillock. He does so much to improve things for us boarders and he hardly ever says no to our requests. He persuaded us that doing this work will make it much better for us, and now that it’s done, we can see that he was right.”

“It’s been hard work and taken us a lot of time,” said Kai Volny. “But while we were working the other day people driving past in their cars were hooting and waving at us, and some even stopped to take pictures, it made me feel proud.”

Everything you do in a school has to be educational and the clean up project has been rich in lessons learned. “At a basic level, the boys picked up practical skills they never had,” said Mr Hillock. “It was surprising how any of them had never handled a broom before, or a rake and they quite quickly became skilled in efficiently clearing an area of refuse and litter and in the gardening skills of clearing weeds and grass from the paved areas.

”Then there are the skills that come with community service. “This is our community, but Jeppe boys have very little contact and interaction with it,” Mr Hillock said. “I think the boys have learnt a lot by physically going out there. They have also learnt that there comes a time when you have to stop complaining, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. It’s all very well pointing out that other people aren’t doing their jobs, but sometimes you need to be part of the solution.”

And it’s been fun. Sifiso and Kai both said they’d like to see this become a regular thing. “We should go on a street clean up once a term,” they said. “It brought us together and raised the name of the school, that’s great.”