As a young man Peter Buis had to leave his hometown in Ashton in the Western Cape to a neighbouring town to complete his matric because there were no high schools in Ashton at the time.
Shortly before he matriculated, he questioned local authorities about what it would take to build a high school in Ashton. He did not get immediate feedback, and after completing his teaching education, he returned to Langerberg Secondary School in Robertson where he had matriculated just a few years before.
His words however planted a seed that would bear lasting fruit. In 1989, the first high-school in his hometown, Ashton Secondary School was built. Three years later, in 1990, Buis began his teaching career at the school and in 1999 was appointed as the principal, a position he has held for two decades now.
Buis has taught and coached generations of families at the school. His own wife of 32 years, and his three children, have been behind the desk as his students.
"I taught my wife and kids accountancy and economics, and I was my son's rugby coach. Most of the learners I have now, I taught their parents too. The journey has been very interesting. I am experiencing it as an absolute blessing."
He says his entire life had been dedicated to advancing the lives of his learners. Living only five minutes from the school has also been a blessing for Buis, who says his family often teased him, saying he was squatting at home and living at the school. On most days he gets home long after learners and teachers have gone home.
"Education sets me on fire. I love seeing young people become successful at various levels in society. I have been called a mentor and a beacon of hope in the community, but all I want is to make an impact in my community and immediate surroundings," he says.
Buis says suffering in his rural community tugs at his heartstrings and forces him to exhaust whatever he has towards bettering the lives of others.
In 2013 he donated his private bakkie to the school after one of his learners was assaulted on her way home from work. Since then the school has acquired a Quantum taxi and a 66-seater bus.
He also began a soup kitchen with his wife to feed the less privileged in the area.
"I do not like suffering, and I have so many blessings that I can count. I understand the concept that says it's in giving that we receive, so I believe in sharing whatever I have with others."
He says the community of Ashton was characterized by long seasons of unemployment. Parents in the area can go for more than six months at a time without an income, making it impossible for them to provide their children with the bare minimum. The no-fee high school caters for 1100 learners, 300 more than it was built to handle.
In 2013, the school was selected as one of the beneficiaries of the Tiger Brands Foundation's in-school nutrition programme. Each morning the learners are treated to a well-balanced meal comprised of maize-based porridge, oats and sorghum. Buis says the tremendous change he has witnessed in the school since then has proven that indeed you can't teach a child on an empty stomach.
"Before this programme was introduced to our school, we had a large number of learners who were always late and were very sickly. The absenteeism rate has dropped drastically, and our pass rate has increased significantly. It's amazing what a simple meal like a healthy breakfast can do. We are very grateful to the Tiger Brands Foundation, and we plead with them to keep up the good work for the next generation of leaders."
In 2019, Ashton Secondary School received the Western Cape Provincial merit award for continuous progress in its pass rate. He gladly boasted that the improvement wasn't just in the classroom, but could also be witnessed on the rugby field. Many of his learners are avid rugby players who sometimes enjoy a health shake made with the Morvite porridge that is part of the school's breakfast diet.
"The nutrition in the breakfast has been good for making the children's bones strong. They have become better competitors, and they don't just play, they win!" he affectionately says.
Buis is on the brink of retirement, but still runs his race as if he's just getting started. His secret to a long fulfilling life has been living out his biggest passion - to educate and impact.
"I could've become anything, but I see my profession as a calling. I want to be remembered as a person who made the best of every opportunity to the advancement and benefit of every child."