Raising funds for mental health awareness

UCT final year students Carla Meyer and Leandre Kleynhans, both from Diep River, with Dominique McFall of Rondebosch

Pupils from schools across the Constantia valley united in a 12-hour swim to raise funds for mental health awareness.

Many hours of planning came together on Saturday March 24 as pupils and adults swam laps in the Wynberg Boys’ High School pool between 6am and 6pm.

The #SwimForChange event was started by two pupils from Wynberg Boys’ High School and Reddam College who encouraged others to come together to swim a few kilometres or laps.

But it wasn’t all serious, with bubbles, bunting and balloons floating in the breeze. Others splashed each other from boogie boards and plastic chairs.

In between laps #SwimForChange founder, Christopher Kleynhans, 14, said he has always had a passion for swimming and uses the 12-hour non-stop swim as a symbolic way to show how life can sometimes be a hard slog.

This is the second year that he and his friend of many years, Reece Slade, have organised the event (“Swimming for a cause”, Bulletin March 16, 2017).

“Last year we struggled to get teens to come and swim so this time we invited pupils from other schools to join us. I wanted to get youth feeling more comfortable about speaking about mental health,” said Christopher.

And they came, throughout the day, from Wynberg Girls’ High School, Bergvliet, Springfield, Sweet Valley, Reddam and the University of the Western Cape.

He says these schools displayed a poster he and Reece produced and also a video.

Last year Christopher swam 22km but this year only 17km because he had a skiing accident in January.

“I ruptured ligaments in my right knee and had reconstructive knee surgery in February. I was told that I may not swim until I have rehabilitated because this could do further damage. I was devastated but decided not to cancel the event. For me this was a mental challenge on its own because swimming is my passion and this event is incredibly important to me. I was very disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to swim and had to focus on the positive aspect of getting the message across regardless of my situation. I had to rely on others to help me and experienced what it’s like to ask for help and feel okay about it,” said Christopher.

However, he did swim on Saturday , wearing a massive knee brace, not using his leg but pulling himself across the pool using his arms, sometimes aided by a flotation device.

Wynberg Boys’ headmaster, Jan de Waal, joined him in the pool early that morning as pupils came to do their part.

One girl said the message of the event was important to her as there had been depression in her family. Another said his family struggled to deal with his brother who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Wynberg Girls’ head girl, Aqilah Regal, raced against Wynberg Boys’ head of service, Grant Kantor, who said the list of mental health diseases is endless, as was the swim.

Wearing a wetsuit, Christopher’s sister Leandre Kleynhans said mental health is an unspoken issue in schools, especially in boys’ schools.

Lara Featherstone of Springfield Convent Schools was also there, for an hour after a diving competition. She did it last year and had an amazing time but said this year was even more fun.

Despite “freezing” water she swam 2km, 80 laps and was happy to give Christopher a break. “It was a little cold but heart-warming and I couldn’t stop smiling, feeling this unity with everyone, and the drive to create a platform to speak and raise awareness about mental illness, which is such a stigmatised issue in society today. The topic needs to be addressed, particularly by young adults who will have a say one day and can promote, help and secure an environment for those who have mental illnesses,” said Lara.

“What Christopher is doing is an inspiration of how an individual can make a change and bring light to issues not spoken about. Christopher’s posters around our school sparked conversations related to mental illness and depression which is half the aim of what this campaign is trying to achieve,” said Lara.

Christopher also had support from Wynberg Rotary, Coca Cola, Oh! That Truck (food truck) and Sound Works in Tokai.

Funds raised will be used on mental health education so that teachers learn how to deal with depression, stress and ADHD.