George teen digs graves to pay for school fees
Cape Town - While other children were enjoying their holidays at the beach, this teenager was digging graves to help pay for his schooling and to support his family.
Gustav Appels, 19, from George, is in Grade 12 at Parkdene High School.
During the extended school holidays, Appels began working at the Burial Assistance Service, where he had to dig graves to pay for his school fees, which was R300, and he was supplied with stationery.
When the new school year began, Appels continued to work at the graveyard, as he is the sole breadwinner of his family.
Appels lives with his grandmother, Anne Jacobs, 65, his mother, Croné Appels, 36, and two siblings.
Appels was raised by his grandmother who took the responsibility of caring for the children.
His father died when he was younger.
"At the age of three, my sister and I moved to my grandmother's home because our mother was not that active in our lives," said Appels.
"My father died when I was just a little boy. My grandmother basically raised us since we were babies and she used to be the breadwinner.
"She is now a pensioner. I am now the bread winner of the family.
"I work at the graveyard on weekends and during the school holidays.
"The money I managed to earn during the school holidays paid for my school uniform and we were provided with stationery.
"I still have to pay for my school jacket which is nearly R800," he said.
Appels enjoys the work and does not mind the hard labour.
But what weighs heavily on him is the tragedy of burying so many people during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"It was a very sad time for families and for us, workers, to see their pain and loss," he explained.
"We had to dig a lot of graves when people died of Covid-19. It was hard for families who could not be with their loves at the final stages of their lives," he said.
Appels also began a soup kitchen named Bread of Life with the help of his grandmother, when he saw how many other children were going hungry. The family relies on donations to keep the kitchen going.
Together they manage to feed about 120 children per week.
"We began feeding three to four children when we saw that there is a need in our community, especially during lockdown and now we are giving 120 children food per week," he explained.
Jacobs donates of her pension towards the soup kitchen: "I love to support him with the soup kitchen and I am very proud of him."
The family also receives donations from a fund created for Bread of Life which is managed by Gregory Noble, who is also a local musician in the region.
"Gustav is an inspiration to everyone here," explained Noble.
"Despite his circumstances, he wants to make other people's lives better.
"He brings so much love and light to the children here.
"I met him when he joined our local drama group," Noble said.
Appels hopes to continue to inspire the children in his community once he completes his schooling: "I want to uplift them, I want to show them you can do anything, despite your circumstances.
"I want to make a change in this community,“ he said.