“Because I didn’t do the same sports that the popular kids did, I wasn’t good enough. And then they’d physically punch me, tear my clothes and I’d go home bleeding after school.” Reuben’s younger brother, 11-year-old Timeon, was not spared either.
He suffered incessant name-calling and was “emotionally broken down” by his peers. Their parents did what many parents do when their children are being bullied: they told them to ignore it, to not listen to the names they were being called. Sadly, that never worked and the bullying continued.
Reuben and Timeon are just two victims in an ever-growing pool of children suffering as a result of bullying in South Africa. Recently, 13-year-old Louis de Jonge, from Crystal Park, passed away after allegedly being repeatedly bullied at Gekombineerde Skool Noorderlig in Benoni.
Allegations are that in September alone, he had been attacked three times.
According to social worker Vanessa Richards, incidents and severity of bullying in schools in this country both in private and public schools is increasing. Vanessa Richards said recent studies have shown that violence and harsh physical discipline by parents can result in children either developing aggressive behaviour towards others or an increased vulnerability to being bullied.
“(Parents have) got to take a look at their own family environment,” she said.
As the brothers have gotten older, the bullying has subsided, but they haven't forgotten about the pain they've endured.
“We wanted to make sure that no one else should go through what we have gone through, so we are trying to change things,” Timeon said.
In 2014, the brothers created an interactive comic strip called The Adventures of Bully and Boo. The comics, which can be purchased online, convey realistic bullying situations that users learn to navigate. Last year, the comics were purchased in 26 countries, and have been used by psychologists, teachers and homeschoolers.
The brothers have made children in primary school their target audience. The point of the e-learning tool is to instil the value of empathy in children at a young age.
“It’s about focusing on the person who does it rather than focusing on the victim,” said Reuben.
“You create empathy so that the culprit feels empathy for the victim and then no longer bullies.”
And they aren’t done spreading their message. Throughout the International Anti-Bullying Week, which takes place November 13-17, The Adventures of Bully and Boo will be available for free.
Reuben and Timeon hope to reach at least 40 countries this year. They also want to see their comic strip available in more languages, and have set their sights on creating an app that can take their message further.
“It’s about little by little getting more people to realise what's happening. Because there are many people who bully and they don't even know that they're bullying,” said Reuben.
He also said the school administrators’ refusal to admit that bullying was an issue among their students is another part of the problem. “Honestly, I think it’s because of the image of the schools, their reputation,” said Reuben. “I’ve been in schools where I’ve been bullied and the schools have tried to cover it up.”
Reuben described bullying as a mentality that exists among all races. “I don't think it's limited to one race. I think it’s everywhere,” he said.
The brothers are seeking to partner with sponsors in order to expand their message.