My childhood could be described as typically dutch. Hours of cycling around town, playing with friends, fishing and reenacting scenes of Zorro in the garden with my sister. Family was only ever a short cycle away but that would not always be the case. In September 1991, a family of 5 moved to Cape Town, South Africa. 9652 km away from everything & everyone that we knew.

18 months before, my parents had watched a documentary on Dutch television about street children in Cape Town. So moved by this documentary that they felt the need to do something. 1991 was still a turbulent time in South Africa. Negotiations on how to end apartheid were ongoing and violence would often flair up. This is the South Africa we arrived in. A family of 5 with 7 suitcases and just about as many English words in our vocabulary.

As we settled into school and learning the language, my parents starting doing what they came for and that was to work with street children. Part of that was going onto the street with volunteers and handing out pea soup to the kids. It wasn't long before the boys started calling my parents, Uncle Toby & Aunty Aukje.

In 1995 our family of 5 grew to 7 when two street boys, Morne & Edward came to live with us. This was the beginning of Beautiful Gate. You can imagine, it was an adjustment for all. I was 13, my sister 11 and my youngest brother only 4 and we had to share our parents with two others. It wasn't uncommon to wake up in the morning and there would be another boy at the breakfast table. Dion, Bernard, John & Alfonzo.

In July 2019 (many years later), I’m reading a local newspaper and I read a headline “Street kid turns professional surfer”. Intrigued, I continue to read. In the article there is a mention of Beautiful gate and I suddenly realize that I know this kid. It’s Alfonzo, one of the boys that lived with us at Beautiful Gate. Two weeks later we met for a coffee in Muizenberg. We try and calculate when last we saw each other. It’s been 25 years and a lot has happened.

Alfonzo tells me he is now a South African Surf champion, married with two children. He has become the real family man. Providing for them by being the head coach at Surf with Al, based in Muizenberg. “Not to boast but I’m a really good coach. I can get anybody up on a board.” Looking at the man sitting in front of me I think, he has it all together. But his childhood stories tell a very different side of the man.  “There were times when I would try and stay awake cause I was scared something would happen to me.”

Sitting at the cafe I realize that our childhood could not have been more different. The struggle he had endured even before coming to Beautiful Gate is something that as a 13 year old boy I could never have imagined at the time. I start to see Alfonso and the other boys in a different light but also have the realisation that our short time together shaped both our lives.