“I’d love to make a difference in lives, specifically the lives of children so that they can bloom. I want to help people to be the best that they can be for God and His kingdom. That’s the only way to inner happiness. I think that’s why God put me here, to merge different cultures and to teach people about love, acceptance and respect.”

Even though she never planned on being La Rochelle’s principal, Dalene Olivier inspires personnel and many young minds daily. She knows that South Africans need to work through their issues and let go. “If we hold grudges, we aren’t going to move on; we’ll put them onto the shoulders of our children. If we can’t forgive, we won’t let our children move on.”

Growing up with music, supportive parents and spirited family debates made Dalene the dynamic sounding board that she is today. “We were passionate but didn’t go to bed angry. We always sorted out our issues before bedtime. I had a wonderful relationship with my parents; it was a privilege and it’s something I can celebrate.”

God’s will is clear if you keep your eyes on Him. He reveals what the world needs and how you can contribute. Dalene is no stranger to God’s miraculous way.

“I believe that I have a calling. This position as headmaster at La Rochelle’s primary school was a miracle in itself. I believe God put me here because he thought that I should be here.”

In 2014, Dalene was ready to leave the educational sector. She felt overworked raising three children, teaching music and Life Orientation, and orchestrating concerts. As a BMus graduate with an ardent passion for music, she reached breaking point when her usual vigour for music started to dissipate. She was ready to pack up. But then an opportunity presented itself that was at once absurd and terrifying.

After asking God “to show her the way”, La Rochelle primary school’s principal at the time urged Dalene to apply for her role. “I didn’t think I’d get the position, but I applied and decided that if I get the job, I’ll accept the challenge.” Dalene got the job. “I realised that it must be my calling and that God put me here to act out his will.”

As headmaster of one of the schools in Paarl, Dalene faces copious challenges daily. 

“As you talk to people, you pick up different narratives and perceptions. At times it’s difficult to understand where people come from because I was so privileged and learned to love everyone equally and unconditionally.

“If we can break the chains of the past, South Africa could have a new and bright future. What we try to do at our school is to teach children to love, respect and accept one another and to enjoy  and celebrate diversity.”

“Unconditional love gives you a boost in life.” 

Over 1 million babies were born in South Africa in 2018. New life is precious. However, so many new parents don’t know how to raise a child. Unfortunately, countless children aren’t cherished and don’t feel loved.

“La Rochelle primary school could be their haven, but we can’t heal their emotional wounds. This is becoming more prevalent. We’re raising a broken generation.

“Being a parent is a privilege but also a tremendous responsibility. A household needs rules, routines, and sound principles to strengthen a child’s core values. Schools and parents have to work together to change our youth for a better South Africa, one of mutual respect and less violence.

“In life, we continuously juggle five balls: first is our relationship with God; second is our relationships with our loved ones; third is our relationship with our fellow humans; fourth is our health; fifth is our work. The first four balls are made of glass and break if they fall, but the fifth (which gets the most attention and time) is made of rubber.

“We will have to slow down at some point.”

“The rubber ball gets too much attention, and our family structures are paying the price. We don’t have a chance to attain inner joy because we simply don’t have time, we’re just trying to survive and keep the balls in the air.

“Society is partly to blame. The always-on mentality is damaging our family and interpersonal structures. I challenge parents to adopt supper by candlelight, a weekly sit down dinner without technology where parents and children could share their golden moments of the day and look each other in the eye.”

South Africa’s biggest problem is uncertainty born from corruption.

“People are scared. South African leaders don’t lead by example and people don’t know where to go from here. With the lack of resources, funds, and respectable leaders all else fall to pieces.”

Crisis and incompetency in primary schools in South Africa

“If you consider education in South Africa, you see that there aren’t resources, financial support, good leadership or competency. People are placed in positions where they don’t have the expertise and then everything falls apart.

“Even so, extraordinary, intelligent and capable principals, with the expertise needed, have a hard time to do their jobs properly. That’s a problem as insufficient schooling grows poverty and the socio-economic gap. It’s a vicious circle that’s hard to break.

“I feel very privileged to be part of a principals’ group. I’m doing a mini MBA at UCT alongside other principals, and I’ve grown to love each of them. The daily issues they have to deal with is unbelievable; that they still have courage to go to school is admirable but also sad because they don’t have resources, support, money or leadership.

“One of our research tasks is on substance abuse under Grade 6 and 7 learners. Our school has none, except for one little girl who’s dad gave her a sip of sweet wine. Those primary school principals have up to 67% of their Grade 6 and 7 students addicted to drugs or alcohol in the Cape Flats.

“One of the schools has 70 Grade 7 learners in a classroom. The gap between the quality of education is just ballooning. What is promised is not what is delivered. I think those people completely lose trust and courage.”

One thing teachers can control is how they approach obstacles. With a positive mindset, teachers can inspire change in others.

Inspirational stories are hard to find when days are grey. Dalene holds on to a story she discovered while reading the book, Fish.  It is about a woman who watched a fish market operating and used these principles of the fish market to uplift her work environment that was becoming toxic.

“Four things could improve morale in the work environment. First is attitude – your paintbrush for the day. Second, you have to be present, right there where you are and not think about other things, so that you can truly enjoy what is in front of you (and look children in the eye and listen to what they say). We’re inclined to distraction and don’t read body language when a child tries to speak to us. Humour is third; there must always be lightness or some form of play. Lastly, you have to try and make somebody’s day – with a smile or a word.” You have to leave a positive legacy behind.

“If we can get our personnel enthusiastic and fully present every day, we can start the transformation process, but we still need support from our government.”

We can help the educator sector with “family seminars and workshops that provide parents with the skills they need to raise balanced and happy adults. Many new parents don’t know how to be parents. There are no guidelines. I think you have to anchor family structure in religion, and that is something I’d like to encourage in households.

“We have to get back to the basics – principles. Technology is so accessible that children easily see violent acts and things that they shouldn’t have. Parents shouldn’t think that they are unnecessarily conservative; in the end, they are doing it for their children. After children have been exposed to things they weren’t ready or prepared for they lose their incredible innocence to believe everything is beautiful and as it should be.”

Religious policies have changed in South African Schools, but now they have to live religion, “and that’s a wonderful thing. You have to practice what you preach, and it must be visible to other people.”

Moving from disharmony to harmony starts with you.

“For society to move from disharmony to harmony, we have to start with ourselves. Each person in South Africa will have to do introspection. You have to know where you’re going and where you want to go and be willing change. You need peace in your heart to be able to reflect inner harmony.

“Change lies in your attitude, whether you want to change or not. No one can force you to change.

“It’s not circumstances that determine success in your life; it’s the decisions that you make. God created us in His image so that we can choose. We have to motivate others by living as example. They should be able to see that you are living light.”

We must always have hope. God is with us wherever we go.

“I know that we don’t ever have to be hopeless because I believe Jesus is with us every day. At times we forget that His love is unconditional; He walks with us wherever we go, every second of the day. Don’t forget that because it’s something that you can celebrate every day.”

La Rochelle’s students give Dalene hope and courage to push on. “I’m excited each day to see the little eager faces as they say hello with a hug. I want to create a beautiful life for them. We have to be a source of hope and light for those around us. We need positive role models, now more than ever. With guidance we can nurture hope.”