In a world where memories fade, and legacies become distant echoes, there are remarkable individuals who strive to keep the spirit of their loved ones alive. Johan Mortier’s promise to his dear son Noah serves as a timeless testament of remembrance and a beacon of hope for the underprivileged children of South Africa.
As I celebrated another year under the sun this week, I could not help but find myself reflecting on the memories of my mother. She remains etched in my mind and heart. But 19 years later, I cannot help wondering if I have done enough to ensure her legacy lives on. A simple tombstone may be a traditional symbol, but is it truly enough for a woman who dedicated her entire life to nurturing and guiding young minds as both an educator and a principal?
This question has consumed me ever since I delved into the world of legacy work and discovered the movie The Gift of Life.
The movie tells the story of the Smith family, who tragically lost their teenage son in a car accident. Despite feeling traumatised, they make the selfless decision to donate all his important organs to save the lives of others – and in a way, their son will also live on.
This powerful and emotional film explores the complex emotions and challenges the family faces as they navigate the process of organ donation. It delves into ethical dilemmas, the impact on their own grieving process, and the profound effect it has on both the recipients of the organs and the wider community. This inspiring movie displays the strength and resilience of the human spirit, highlighting the transformative power of organ donation, creating a lasting impact even in the face of loss.
Since then, I listened to John Perlman, CEO of the Dreamfields Project, tell the story of Noah Mortimer’s teenage death and his family’s quest to create a legacy project. As I listened, I was deeply moved and decided that I needed to make a documentary.
On 21 August 2015, Noah Mortier was riding his bicycle to his home near Brussels in Belgium when a drunk driver hit him from behind and left him lying on the road. He died a few hours later in hospital. He was just 16 years of age.
In his short life, Noah had already touched many lives. “Noah was a dynamic young boy full of dreams and plans,” says his father, Johan. “We never will forget his laugh.”
Noah had a great passion for sports, especially football, and he loved to travel to other countries. “The trip that he loved the most was South Africa, which he visited twice. The week before he died, he told his father that he wanted to go back to South Africa.”
Noah’s death at such a young age meant he could not fulfil these dreams. At his funeral, his father spoke of the last conversation he had with his son as he lay dying. “I promised Noah that in one way or another, we will continue the things that he dreamed of and in this way keep his spirit alive.”
Johan “wanted a project that would give an opportunity to poor children in South Africa to play football and develop and grow”. Seeking a capable partner, he discovered the Dreamfields Project, a not-for-profit organisation with a track record of creating sports opportunities for children in township and rural areas.
The Dreamfields model encompasses a simple yet effective approach. By establishing Dream Leagues in primary schools, they ensure that every child who desires to play football can do so. Equipping these aspiring athletes with the necessary gear and organising regular coaching workshops empowers teachers and community coaches to sustain the programme successfully. This impactful initiative currently spans 396 schools, touching the lives of approximately 70 000 children annually.
This partnership between Johan Mortier and Dreamfields birthed the Football Academy Noah (FAN), a shining embodiment of remembrance and dedication. FAN’s sole mission is to empower students from 48 schools in KwaMsane, KwaZulu-Natal, by providing them with proper coaching and high-quality equipment. Through their involvement with FAN, these young learners are encouraged to nurture their dreams of a brighter future, transcending the limitations imposed by their circumstances.
Noah’s legacy serves as an inspiration not only to those directly involved in FAN but also to the broader community. The ripple effect of Johan’s heartfelt promise creates a lasting impact, setting an example for others to follow in their pursuit of honouring loved ones and contributing to society. Beyond the football field, FAN instils invaluable life skills, fosters discipline, and instigates personal growth among the children it serves.
In a world that often loses sight of the past, Johan’s unwavering commitment to prolong Noah’s dreams breathes life into the concept of remembrance. The Football Academy Noah stands as a testament to the power of preserving legacies through meaningful action. By investing in the aspirations of underprivileged children, FAN paves the way for a brighter future, empowering them to overcome adversity and reach their full potential. Let Johan’s story serve as a reminder that even in loss, there lies an opportunity to create a lasting impact by nurturing the dreams of others.
This week, I realised that there is still much more I can do to preserve my mother’s memory, including a simple act of creating a garden in her memory. But my end-of-life choices, such as being an organ donor, will still honour not only my legacy but my mother, too, who gave birth to me 48 years ago.