A 71 year old student inspired me to continue dreaming

My second running project went through parts of Namibia and South Africa. I wasn’t still sure of what the greater purpose of my projects were. In the semi-desert regions on the Northern Cape I met the elderly woman Ou Sus Ben in the small town Garies. She shared her story and a lifelong dream with me.

She was 71 when I met her and she told me that her burning desire was to become a teacher. As the eldest of her siblings, she was fortunate enough to be able to afford to go to school. She understood the power of education, not just as a means to a job and learning, but also as a tool to fight prejudice. However, her dream of becoming a teacher ended when she was 15. Due to a broken family structure, she had to leave school and seek employment so that she could provide food and clothes for her family.

Back to school chasing part of her dream
One day, at the age of 68, she decided that while she would never be a teacher, she would at least finish her schooling, and so she re-enrolled. Even though she had never studied biology before, her time working in a library had given her a real passion for the subject, and so she signed up for matric biology. She also studied English. On the day of her final English exam, she realised that she had been registered as an English mother tongue student and she could either refuse to write the exam, and automatically fail, or attempt it. As a person whose mother tongue is Khoekhoe, with Afrikaans as her 2nd, Ou Sus Ben was faced with deciphering Shakespeare and Chaucer as if she had spoken English all of her life.

When she dropped out of school in her younger years to support her family, she started off cleaning and washing for a farmer and his family. Over time, she changed several jobs and finally ended up as a librarians assistant. It wasn't her dream job, but it was the closest she could get to a life of knowledge. After her retirement, Ou Sus Ben spent some time looking after her grandchildren and family, but she had a deep sadness that she hadn't been a teacher.

Her background didn’t stop her
Ou Sus Ben is a Nama, a group of people descended from the original inhabitants of Southern Africa, the Khoisan. As a child, her family lived in collapsible houses, made from wood and animal hides, sleeping on the floor using other animal skins as bedding. It was the way of her people. Ou Sus Ben also lived under the oppressive political system of apartheid, a system that discriminated against her because of the colour of her skin.

She passed her matric. She passed it growing up in a broken family. She passed it growing up under a political system which at times regarded her as no more valuable than an animal. She passed it writing a subject she had never studied before, and she passed it writing a language exam in a language she had mostly taught herself.

The powers of dreams
When Ou Sus Ben told me her story I realised the incredible power of dreams. She sacrificed more than I can imagine, but she knew that to achieve a dream, one needs patience, belief and lots and lots of hard work.

Through meeting Ou Sus Ben I finally knew what was driving me on my runs. It's all about dreams. Finding a dream and then pursuing it. She showed me that being positive is a choice, that even if our dreams don't come true, there are other paths to follow, that a broken dream doesn't mean that we should give up.

I do these projects because it's a part of my dream. Hopefully I can also use them to inspire others in the same way that this remarkable human being inspired me.

Master is the main sponsor of Hug Run and helps Dave to complete his dream - an adventure around the world. Hug Run is a tribute to dreams that live within us all and our ability to realize them.

Foto: fibes.se and Jo-Anne Hay

Tags: CSR

Date: 21.03.2017