The sound of laughter can be heard as one enters the Boomhuis Art Gallery at the Woodmill in Stellenbosch. Twenty high school learners from different communities are gathered for a week-long holiday programme with a difference. The Chalkboard Project brings hope and healing.

The purpose of the project is to provide the learners with a safe space where they can tell their stories, delve into their perceptions of self and who they aspire to be; and write about their hurts and dreams – without any fear of judgement. Through creative art, painting, writing and drama, the learners explored topics such as each person’s responsibility to make the right choices in life; the repercussions of their words and actions; their values and self-worth.

For the project director, Mario Rousseau, it is key that these children learn to look beyond their past and learn to define themselves in terms of their true value. When a person loses the ability to respect him or herself, this opens the door to unhealthy relationships, destructive life choices and ultimately, the inability to achieve one’s dreams.

It was both inspiring and thought-provoking to watch the learners as each one had the opportunity to draw themselves in the form of a symbol that, they feel, represents the essence of who they are. One drew a lamp and explained that he realises that he has a responsibility to let his light shine in this world. Another drew a beautiful crown, explaining that “I know I am a princess, because I am a child of the King”. One or two were a bit shy to share their stories, but the facilitators guided them gently through the process of sharing their images – and enjoying the positive feedback from their peers.


The Chalkboard is a project of The Blueprint Trust – a ministry established in 2018 by Mario Rousseau, a man who is no stranger to incredible hardship, life on the streets, gangsterism and drugs.

Mario explains how a dramatic encounter with God within the confines of a prison cell transformed his life in the blink of an eye. Today, Mario pours heart and soul into investing into the lives of others – especially those who are at the greatest risk of falling prey to the dangers of a life of crime and substance abuse. For more information about the work of The Blueprint Trust, the Chalkboard Project or to invite Mario to speak at an event, contact him on 064 808 2951 or


Ilse Kleyn, artist and owner of Die Boomhuis, for the use of their beautiful facilities. Jana Kleynhans – drama teacher. Daily lunches sponsored by KFC, Rocco Mama’s, Roman’s Pizza and Spur. On Friday 21 June, the folk from Idas Valley’s Golden Boys & Girls group will be sharing with the learners. Nedbank – for a donation towards the week’s programme as part of their Proud of my Town programme.