Everyday heroes: Hansen Preuss

Sticitt believes in everyday heroes who quietly go about doing the small things right without fuss or fanfare. These heroes change our world for the better every day and ask nothing in return. Sticitt is built to support the work of these everyday heroes, we try to find small ways to make their lives easier and help them expand on the amazing work they do. And now we would also like to recognise them, in our small way, in a series of articles highlighting these remarkable people.

Who is Hansan Preuss?

Hansen is known throughout Worcester as “vriendelike” (friendly) Hansen. He works at HTS Drostdy as the head of youth development. His roles include that of a counsellor, life coach and team-building facilitator in the school. He constantly comes up with new programmes to help shape the children coming through HTS Drostdy and offer assistance to those who are experiencing difficulties or are causing trouble.

He also runs an NPC he founded called “Adventure of Being” focussed solely on youth development while also sponsoring some of the projects he runs at HTS Drostdy.

What inspired the youth development project at HTS Drostdy?

Hansen started his journey thirty years ago, combining his love for the outdoors and adventure with his passion for people, in the adventure-related experiential learning industry working with the youth especially. When illness forced him to change course he took up an opportunity to do a youth work project at HTS Drostdy. Over the last eight years, his role in the school grew and he took on the initiative to work with the learners and teachers to develop a values-based development plan for all children in Drostdy.

What is the vision for HTS Drostdy behind the projects being run?

The main vision for Hansen’s drive at HTS Drosty is to raise children with integrity who can go out and make a positive difference in their families, communities and our country. This is done through various projects aimed at creating opportunities for learners to explore their existence and potential to become something great. These projects and aligned to build on the values HTS Drostdy adopted under Hansen’s guidance: Love, Responsibility, Trust and Respect. As an example, one of the projects called “Expedisie Belewenis” (Expedition Experience) encourages learners to experience more of life by purposefully embarking on a lifelong journey living out the values you believe in and becoming the person you aspire to be.

How does this vision align with the broadened goal of education?

Hansen had the opportunity to spend some time with Kingsley Holgate who inspired him by saying that the three things one needs to be successful in life are Passion, Heart and Determination.  Children who experience passion tend to apply it in many different aspects of their lives, improving their engagement with learning. Teaching them heart helps them care for those around them leading to better cooperation and learning environments. With determination, they can see through the difficult times and hard tasks to become someone who can stand out and distinguish themselves. Hansen’s vision at HTS Drostdy aligns with this piece of wisdom and aims to drive these outcomes in the educational environment.

What are some of the programmes being implemented?

The programmes currently being run include a Grade 8 camp focussed on embedding the values of HTS Drostdy through fun, teambuilding activities. Children are also encouraged to live out some of the values immediately by using the camps as an opportunity to raise support for other NGOs in the area. Also on the agenda is a dedicated programme for the boys in the hostel to help them understand what manhood is all about. The programme is called “Campfire Stories” and involves sitting together in a safe environment and talking about what it takes to survive in our modern society, how to deal with stress and what it means to be a man. Similarly, a programme is hosted for the girls called “Bella Moments” for girls. Bella means beautiful and is also the name of the female donkey mascot at HTS Drostdy. This programme helps girls explore their femininity, giving them attention they might not get at home and bonding over skin-care rituals and personal pampering sessions.

Hansen also runs a dedicated life coaching and counselling programme at HTS Drostdy called “Pixel”. Just like one broken pixel on a screen immediately leaves a noticeable gap, so too we must make sure all aspects of our life are healthy be it: Spiritual, Emotional, Relational or Physical. Through Pixel Hansen spends time to identify the root cause of challenges a learner is experiencing, so that it can be resolved and the learner can continue to grow. Additional projects then help children with these issues, like project “Jerry Can” for children facing spiritual problems. In this project, children go out camping with Hansen and his old trailer he rebuilt. Taking the time to focus on nature, quieting all the noise and looking for ways to make small differences in the world around us go a long way to calming children whose lives are in turmoil.

What challenges are the main challenges encountered in supporting these children?

From Hansen’s experience, he believes the biggest challenge children experience is a lack of sense of belonging. Children often lack a safe environment within which they can explore and share. Without experimentation, there is no experience and without experience they can’t master anything, making them more insecure and isolated. Helping them master any skill counters this cycle and allows them to build confidence in themselves, which they can then use to reach out and help others. In his “spare time” Hansen helped the formation of a Radio Control Club at HTS Drosty. After starting small the club soon began to grow and developed into a community of previously awkward children who suddenly found a way to engage and share something with their peers. The club has an active membership base and cooperates to share parts and expertise, helping each other out. Not just with RC-related problems, but also with life problems in general. Their mutual passion and mastery of RC build a foundation of a supporting community they can belong.

How can parents overcome the challenges of raising children?

Hansen’s work doesn’t stop at the children, he also reaches out to parents and helps them communicate better with their children. In a project called “Donkey X” in partnership with Mountain Brewing, he goes around doing beer tastings with parents. Parents are the most important role players in setting their children up for success, but they often struggle to understand and communicate with their children. By taking the time to talk it through and share his experience, Hansen aims to help these parents connect with their children, which often comes down to something as simple as sitting around a table together. The time spent in silence together is often where that bond is built. Simply being in each other’s presence enough goes a long way to a sense of belonging and connection. In a world where parents are often stressed out and running around, slowing down together even for a few minutes might be key to being there for each other as a family.

For the children in the hostel, he encourages parents to rather video call or even call instead of texting. Studies have shown that the sound of their parent’s voices and the sight of them have a significant impact on calming down stressed children. As a final thought Hansen likes using some of the lingoes he learned as a 4×4 instructor to leave with parents: move as slow as possible as fast as necessary (don’t rush engagements with your children, especially when dealing with issues), rather do it over than overdo it (don’t act in the heat of the moment, take a breath and do it calmly), always walk through a river before you cross it (communicate with them on what is happening, and pre-empt difficult issues on the horizon).

What are some useful things learned from a life dedicated to helping the youth?

Hansen believes you should meet people where they are, not where you think they should be. His whole office is built out of old Landrover parts in his office as a visual reminder that value can be found even in broken things others might discard. He believes a lot can be learned from Landrover drivers because they go out every day knowing that there is a very real chance that their Landrovers will break. But they know the rest of the Landrover community will be there to support them, so they’ll always be able to find the advice and parts they need to fix their Landrovers again.

He believes the mistake people make is thinking everything is normal when it never is. It’s always messy, but we’ll be okay as long we have a safe place to be and a community to support us. In another of his programmes called “Semicolon” he encourages the youth to just sit around a fire and be together. Yes, what we do before and after our quiet restful times is what fills our lives. But we are only able to do great things if we also embrace the stops in between. Allowing ourselves to stop and reset now and then.

Finally, he encourages us to see the greater impact that can be made. Parents he works with often become mentors for other children as well, through an organization called “The World Needs a Father”, and often the youth he’s been working with would grow into supporting roles for other children. Your impact is much more than just the people you help yourself.

How did Sticitt help HTS Drostdy foster this environment and vision?

Hansen was very excited about Sticitt from the moment he heard about it. He immediately reached out to chat with the product designers to understand what is possible and has been instrumental in driving HTS Drostdy to make their entire campus cashless. All sports days and all the merchants the hostel kids would need are all on Sticitt, creating a safe controlled environment for the learners to operate in. In his role as a hostel father, he saw firsthand the benefit of this drive as it completely solved the problem of cash being stolen. Nothing eats at morale and community as theft and hostel cohesion measurably improved when the temptation and hurt of cash theft were removed. Children who didn’t have bank accounts also didn’t feel excluded anymore as anyone could get a Sticitt account for free. The only challenge for children now is that losing your phone privileges comes with even more severe consequences, as it also means you’ve lost access to your money.

What are the next steps for HTS Drosty to take the vision forward?

In Hansen’s ideal world, he’ll have five full-time experiential learning facilitators in HTS Drostdy to make sure every learner gets the attention they need to reach their full potential. With the additional staff, all the projects mentioned can be expanded and the outcomes driven to success across the entire school and parent community. To enable this he would need to raise R1.5 Million per year, but he is working on some plans that’ll hopefully realise it within the next 4 years. He hopes to train people in a different way to think about working with children and youth: Not as a corporate identity, but as a living entity. The youth often carry a lot of pain they can’t voice and can develop much more if there is just someone there for them.

What can other schools learn from the programmes Hansen runs at HTS Drostdy?

Hansen would like to encourage schools to never look at numbers, if only one child shows up it is still successful in helping that child. It is easy to get discouraged but the fruits of your effort might take years to show, you need to keep pushing.

The most important points he would advise schools to make are to give children responsibility and authority and give them a safe space to fail and facilitate it into something good.

He believes anyone at any age can do youth work, it just takes time to sit and listen. You don’t need to say anything, they have enough information, and they need someone to look out for them. If you do want to give advice first make sure you are grounded in yourself and spiritually. The fibre of simplicity is very complex, if you try to unravel it you will get very confused. So if you are still confused yourself you’re more likely to make it worse. Rather just listen and buy them an ice cream.

He would like to challenge teachers and grown-ups to stand out with their hearts for children and excel in everything they do. You don’t need a big budget to work with children, they appreciate you being creative and putting in effort.

And then finally, never lose your integrity. They need to look up to you.

Parting thought

Celebrate the small things with them and just be there for them. That is all they need.

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