Bench memorial for Bokmakierie pupil

Bokmakierie principal, Michele Pinto, addresses the staff, pupils and the family of Mateo Groenewald at a memorial ceremony held on Friday October 22.

Bokmakierie Primary School unveiled a bench, last Friday, in honour of Mateo Groenewald, a pupil who died tragically in July on his 14th birthday.

They also planted a lemon tree in his memory.

The bench forms part of the Kind Hearts Bench Project, an initiative that creates a refuge for pupils on the school ground. Peer pressure, bullying, and mourning are some of the issues the project addresses.

Mateo’s family were at the ceremony, and his classmates, teachers and principal Michele Pinto shared their memories of him before the unveiling.

Ms Pinto told the pupils that whenever they felt sad or lonely they could sit on the bench. She extended the invitation to Mateo’s family as well.

A tribute to Mateo, written by teacher Darryl van Zyl and read by teacher Kelly Jennings, said: “He was a very funny boy. He wanted to be the crowd entertainer – sometimes unintentionally, but there was always a laugh or smile involved. He was a person that never wanted to miss out on anything. Doesn’t matter what he must do. He would often get into trouble or get blamed for things he was not involved in, but I think his face just always looked like he was being mischievous. His sense of humour is something you would look forward to, especially on a Monday when it came to football talk. His love for the game and Liverpool was unmatched. Mateo was a very good goalkeeper. He will surely be missed by many as he has touched many of our hearts.”

Jerome Pland, Mateo’s father, said the ceremony meant a lot to them.

“My son was a good boy. I look at all the people who came to show their respect for him – here today – and at his funeral, which confirms that he did good. He was crazy about soccer and his favourite team was Liverpool. He was a goalkeeper for Hazendal Football Club.”

His mother, Renay Groenewald, said that when had been much younger, Mateo had planted a light bulb in their backyard, convinced a “light tree” would grow from it.

“Now he has his ‘light tree’, as the lemon tree was planted in his honour. He was born on a ‘wintery day’ just like today. I miss him so much. He was always making jokes and laughing,” Ms Groenewald said.

His aunt, Ronelle Pland, said the family appreciated the school’s initiative.

“I miss him a lot. We had a special bond. He was always there – making us tea. He made me laugh so much. He brought so much joy into all of our lives,” Ms Pland said.

Bradley Bailey, the founder of the Kind Heart Bench project, said its aim was to spread inclusion, love and kindness.

“October is Mental Health Awareness Month. We partner with Hope House Counselling Centre, where we facilitate trauma informed and peer-to-peer workshops at various early childhood development centres, primary and high schools – for both pupils and teachers. The project emphasis is that we can be a pillar for the bullied, depressed and marginalised children, the homeless and the hungry,” Mr Bailey said.

The family of Mateo Groenewald helped to plant a lemon tree in his honour. From left, are, his mother Renay Groenewald, his aunt Ronelle Pland and his father Jerome Pland.
Bokmakierie principal Michele Pinto and the founder of the Kind Heart Bench Project, Bradley Bailey, unveiled the bench. With them is Mateo Groenewald’s father, Jerome Pland.
The Kind Heart Bench Project is to remind the pupils that they are not alone in whatever challenges they face. Pictured are Mateo Groenewald’s family with the founder of the Kind Heart Bench Project, Bradley Bailey, far left, and Bokmakierie Primary School principal Michele Pinto, far right. Seated on the bench are Mateo’s parents, Jerome Pland and Renay Groenewald.