In praise of an unsung hero

Wendy Holmgren, Fish Hoek

A wise person once said: “You should walk a mile in another man’s shoes before you judge him.”

This saying has come to mind many times when I think of Herbie Eichel, with whom I have worked for the past 10 years.

So many people have been very ready to judge him harshly over the years for the oddest things, and yet none has bothered to find out who he really is and the things he has done, and still does, with no fanfare.

Let me go back to the beginning of my association with Mr Eichel. For quite a number of years, I was foundation phase head at Sun Valley Primary School and during those years got to meet Mr Eichel, who had sent five little people to our school from underprivileged backgrounds, some from Masiphumelele and some from Ocean View.

I was so intrigued by what he was doing that I made further enquiries and found out that he had committed himself to giving back to the community as thanks for the years he had been able to run The Galley restaurant.

Through the channel of the Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope, he had helped to renovate two preschools, Green Curtains in Ocean View and Masekhane Educare in Masi.

He had also helped to get the staff at these facilities trained so that they could receive appropriate salaries.

But not content with that, he then decided he would get these preschools to select five pupils, all he could manage at the time, to send on to Sun Valley Primary to continue their education.

He reasoned that if you uplift the child, you will also uplift the household and ultimately the community.

So began his journey with Empowerment Through Education (ETE), a trust he set up to cover the costs of these children right through to matric.

But it didn’t stop there. He added more pupils each year until he was sponsoring 21 children. He has faithfully provided their school fees, school uniforms, stationery, camp and sport tour fees.

Every child got to learn to play a musical instrument. Every day a healthy lunch has been provided by the trust and after-school care and extra tuition by myself.

On a number of occasions when a family has been in distress of some kind, or a child has needed extra help in some way, ETE has covered the cost.

Mr Eichel also made sure that there was safe transport home each day to their homes as he didn’t like the idea of them alone on the streets.

Every Christmas a party lunch with presents was held to celebrate the beginning of the holidays. To say he has done more than most is to understate the issue.

Maybe the most amazing thing that Mr Eichel has done is to continue to support our ETE children all through the Covid pandemic when the restaurant came to a virtual standstill and nearly all sponsored funds dried up.

It would have been completely understandable if he had decided that he simply could not carry on but being a very honourable man, he could not do so, and thus decided to dip into his own pension savings to continue supporting “his kids”.

This stress has ultimately had a very detrimental affect on his health as he depleted most of his personal reserves in order that the children would not have to go without.

Herbie has never looked for praise for what he took on so bravely and has seen through since then. To date we have 11 young adults who have successfully matriculated, three more are currently writing matric and five more from Grade 7 to 10, on their way to the finish line.

Many of our pupils have gone on to study at university or college and those who are not studying are all gainfully employed. Sadly we had two pupils who dropped out along the way.

If each of our children reaches adulthood with good values and goals and with an education that opens doors for them, I would say that Mr Eichel has done an excellent job of making sure the community is left just a little better and with more hope than when he started his big project. I, for one, celebrate this unsung hero.