'We won't stop a hug a day': teacher makes 'hugging curtain' for pupils

Teacher Johnel Cronjé says 'a hug means I care, you are special and you are safe. I couldn’t live with the fact that we couldn’t give out hugs any more.'
Teacher Johnel Cronjé says 'a hug means I care, you are special and you are safe. I couldn’t live with the fact that we couldn’t give out hugs any more.'
Image: Johnel Cronjé

One of the hardest parts of the coronavirus pandemic for many people has been the isolation from loved ones and strict social distancing preventing the comforting feeling of being able to hug and hold those you adore.

But this hasn’t stopped a Bloemfontein teacher who developed a “hugging curtain” from coming up with next best thing to a “real hug”.  

Johnel Cronjé, who has been a teacher for the past 34 years, said she created the plastic sheet with improvised armholes to allow pupils to continue with the daily ritual – giving out hugs.

Cronjé said she always had a passion for teaching and education and always tries her best to lay a strong foundation in the lives of her pupils at a young age.

“This is where values ​​are established and where life skills are learnt. This is the most important area of a child’s life to make a difference because it affects their entire outlook on life.

“Children might not remember the fine details of what they were taught, but they remember the love, care and the unconditional acceptance.”

Cronjé said she is the head of department of the primary school section at Martie du Plessis School, a parallel-medium school for pupils with special education needs following the mainstream (CAPS) curriculum from grades R-12.

“It is a very challenging career and every year brings its own challenges, but you never stop learning and that’s what makes it exciting.”  

Cronjé speaks fondly about the highlights of her teaching career at Martie du Plessis.

“It would definitely be the time when a child without arms starting learning how to use his feet to cut and later told me, 'Mrs Cronje, you are magic'.”

She said it also brings her great joy when she sees her pupils at malls or shopping centres and they warmly recognise her.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country and all the strict regulations were put in place at schools, all Cronjé could think about was “how will we continue giving out hugs”.

“My heart was broken. No more hugs. It was a daily ritual in my class and how we greeted each other and showed love. For me a hug meant that I cared, you are special and say that here you are safe.

“I just couldn’t live with the fact that we couldn’t give out hugs any more.”

After seeing a viral video of a family member hugging his grandmother through a plastic sheet curtain, Cronjé immediately thought that she could implement this in her classes.

“I was scared that the plastic might scare the pupils, but they were extremely excited because I prepared them for it. When I brought it to the school for the first time, everyone wanted their daily hug.

“We sanitise everything and wash hands every time before we use the curtain. It was absolutely worth it and I am extremely grateful for my assistants and helpers for their patience and efforts.

“Everything might have changed around us, but hugs will remain.”

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