Samwise Holmes Was Bullied As A Kid. Now He's Helping Other Victims Fight Back
Samwise Holmes was a regular target for classmates, forced to persevere through years of intense bullying.
Years three to eight were the worst for Holmes, who had Asperger's Syndrome. Kids knew he was different and he became a target for bullies.
Holmes would be put down daily, called names like "Sam Homo", or "Sam Homeless," and made to feel isolated, angry and alone.
"Kids would come up to me in the playground, they would intimidate me, they would block me walking up the stairs to class -- they just found it enjoyable to pick on me," Holmes told 10 daily.
During one incident, Holmes had his head shoved down a toilet and flushed, while he was ambushed coming out of class and punched in the face.
"The boy who ambushed me in the toilet and jumped on me from behind in a headlock, I didn't know him," Holmes said.
"He was in the year above me and he was friends with someone that I knew hated my guts for a reason I didn't know. I wasn't in their year, I didn't interact with them".
Holmes said he would often find himself reacting, which would only encourage the bullying.
"They wanted to get a rise out of me, they wanted to see me upset and I would fall right into their trap every single time," he said.
"Someone would come and shove me in the playground or call me names and I would call them names back, I would get angry and I would retaliate. So I would also be the one in trouble".
Even when he tried to walk away and ignore the bullying, he was still attacked.
"[The bullies] could still see how much it was upsetting me, and that still drove them forward and pushed them on," he said.
"And after years of having no self-worth and such a poor self-image, I even ended up taking that out on other vulnerable students and acting out in class just to make myself feel better".
It was a vicious cycle that Holmes couldn't seem to break. When he and the bullies were hauled into a teacher's office, tensions high and actions exaggerated, teachers could never pinpoint exactly what had happened.
"I remember having talks with my mum during primary school and saying 'I don't like this, I can't do this anymore," he said.
Thankfully, as he made his way through high school he found an outlet that helped him cope. Holmes started creative arts, music and drama -- it gave him somewhere to go to be himself and provided an avenue to vent.
"Having that grounding, having that feeling like you belong in some corner of the school society was something that really saved me during what could have been some of the most difficult times," he said.
In his final year of high school, Holmes met Cynthia Guthrie who transferred interstate to his school after years of bullying that fuelled her long-lasting anxiety and depression.
Having both endured countless attacks and constant feelings of worthlessness, powerlessness and isolation, the pair decided enough was enough.
Holmes and Gutherie, who were both heavily involved in the performing arts and performing for kids, created Backflips Against Bullying in March, a program using acrobatics and parkour to connect with students who are being bullied and those who may be bullying others.
"The content that they teach in the curriculum for bullying is great, there's nothing wrong with it, it's just engaging the kids that is the problem," Holmes said.
"Often it is the kids that are hardest to engage who are the ones that need to hear it the most," he said.
Their key anti-bullying messages come intertwined with the backflips, tricks and high jumps. Real-life scenarios, experienced by the performers themselves, are played out throughout the performances, with students given a chance to dictate how any given situation could be changed.
"When we designed the shows, we thought what would I like to have known at that age? What would I like to have been told and what would have helped me if this program came to my school when I was a kid and that's what formed the basis of the program," Holmes said.
The information isn't new, it's based on the anti-bullying curriculum currently in NSW and research by psychologists, but the program has gone "balistic".
There have been more than 150 performances across NSW schools this year, with three separate programs to be rolled out in Victoria and Queensland in 2020.
Bullying remains a huge issue in Australia, with one in four students bullied frequently, and one in five admitting to experiencing online bullying, according to Kids Helpline.
The end goal for Holmes and Guthrie is to equip every student in Australia with the tools to help themselves, help others and have self-reflection on their own action as well.
"We want to help address bullying on a social level and remove bullying from our schoolyards," Holmes said.
"We want to stop it then and there when they're growing and becoming who they need to be. If you do that you can change a child's life forever.
"Nobody should feel like I did about themselves for that long during their childhood".
If you need help in a crisis, call the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.