When you live in South Africa, chances are that you are barely making it through your month.
That’s why at month end the supermarkets are overcrowded with people who received their pay and can buy some food again. I was not used to this from my former life in Germany. I now earn a fraction of what I brought home monthly in Germany. Medical costs are high – my son needed his teeth fixed and it actually cost more than what I get in a month.
As pastors of a big community church in the poorest of all SA provinces, we deal with so many crises that it sometimes seems like climbing a never ending mountain. We had to bury a lot of young people recently due to crime and traffic accidents.
Working for a church means to be the crisis center of a community. And a church in a poor community in the poorest province has very limited funds, so you end up paying a lot out of your own pocket. A new T-shirt for your child or some shoes for a needy sister? I hope some of you can relate when I write that one becomes a little hesitant to get involved in new things. I am not one of the south Africans driving around with a flashy car spending my mornings in gyms and glitzy malls. Wouldn’t mind, but there is real life happening to real people and i don’t want to play the violin while the titanic is busy sinking. I’d rather be tossing more people onto the life boats, if you know what i mean.
In Africa it goes like this: if you have once helped, you will be always responsible to help. Somehow helping creates the impression you have got a money making donkey in your backyard somewhere. We had many people who we helped, showing up again and again demanding more and more things, not understanding that my sons also must eat.
But the Lord Jesus challenges us to never close our hearts, we need to trust Him to replenish what was given.
Out of that call to love, we dared once more to go and check out people who might be in need. You know, when it comes to children, you just have to throw caution into the wind and get ready to help.
So today I have been on the road to Thohoyandou, the former capital of Venda in the Limpopo province.
Africa runs at a very different pace (hurry up and wait).
The Tshilidzini Special School (TSS) has been all the time on my mind though, and after being in contact with the headmaster and some people who wanted to help, I was pushing my husband and finally today we got to go!
I want to share some impressions and pictures with you.
I pray and hope my words can reach your heart and those of some people able to support.
The school was founded under the old Afrikaans regime, a huge complex with great facilities – in theory.
It is immediately evident upon arriving at the school that some of the teachers are driving big cars and SUVs, the gardens are landscaped and the staff offices comfortable. There is really nothing wrong with leaders enjoying a comfortable life style. I believe everybody is working hard. But please judge for yourself.
Apart from the front, the back buildings are starting to show signs of neglect and disrepair.
At the moment, the TSS is home to 360 visually and hearing impaired children as well as physically disabled children and children with various degrees of mental disabilities who are schooled in 3 separate complexes at the school.
The Principal, Mr. Maluma, received us sitting at his desk.
He informed us that this is a government school. The government build the school in the 1970s. The different buildings on the vast complex are big and solid. But it is obvious that for a long time no repairs have been done.
The Deputy Principle of TSS Mr. Msrabu was so kind to lead us around the school premises.
This is the main building where the staff offices are.
Please read my report carefully. It is easy to come in, judge and criticize. I really do not want to do that. I am sure the staff of such an institution is really weary of people with a camera throwing some bags of cookies around and thinking they are saving the world.
It is hard to serve at any place and not get accustomed to all the wrongs over the years so much so that you get comfortable and stop saving the world, though.
The way leading to the teaching and housing area of the visually impaired. You are looking at classrooms.
Classrooms around a courtyard.
Dorm room for 7-12 year old girls. Everything was clean except for a strong smell of urine due to the bedwetting problems of many children.
Mr. Maluma kept stressing the fact that they need waterproof mattresses.
Another dorm room.
Just get me some paint a a few arty aunties and lets paint this happy!
Stairway to the first floor where there are more bedrooms. I was sad to notice the total absence of decorations.
The cafeteria for the blind.
The facilities were all very neat and clean. Although to me the bedrooms are totally drab and sad, I am aware that many learners are from backgrounds where they probably never even had a bed of their own and also not three meals a day. That is much, and it is too little at the same time.
Roof of the kitchen
The government pays the school R17 (about 2 USD) per child per day for food. The parents pay a fee of 1400 ZAR, about 160 USD, per year as a school fee.
As I said it is a government school, the principal and staff are paid by the government. There is no extra initiative to repair the school and purchase any extras out of the private pocket.
The library and resource room. The materials where basically 20 years old or older.
Kids are between grade K (in South Africa it is called grade R) and grade 7.
The severity of their disability differs greatly.
A great number of Albino children (lacking normal pigmentation) whose eyesight is usually seriously impaired, often up to 80%, but who are otherwise fine, are in these special needs classes. To me it was astonishing that they were not wearing any glasses. I do not know enough of the customs in their villages to be able to judge if they are actually better off at this school. I personally felt that the environment in the classrooms was careless and unengaged.
The children were definitely bored as this was not the appropriate place of schooling for those with Albinism.
The classrooms lack teaching materials especially for the little ones.
The kids live at the school but do not have any personal belongings. There are no decorations and also no special materials to teach blind kids. In most classrooms the children were asleep on their desks.
There were Braille typewriters in the class but the teacher said she does not know how to use them.
These typewriters are the only way that blind children can write.
The manager had never heard of Braille and was amazed when I showed him that you can type dots that form an alphabet.
The teachers said it is too difficult for her, she is new. She has been working there since 2010.
The teacher of the only craft class bemoaned that all other craft classes such as sewing and wood work were closed down, although they could produce toys and the likes for the school.
She is at the point of giving up, although she seems to do a good work with the kids.
Severely mentally ill children where together with learners who were only hearing impaired and obviously frustrated with the little education they were receiving.
Although the school is only up to grade 7, learners are often 20 years of age when they finish school due to the fact that up to the time they get to this school, they have not been given any education at all. Hearing impaired children have not learned to communicate even the simplest terms in sign language before. The teachers have to do a lot of hard ground work and are in over their heads.
These teens were all desperate for a hug and some praise for their samplers of their work.
Unfortunately all of the kids where asleep on their desks when we arrived. There was little activity in any class.
One teacher, asked about the stimulation the children are receiving in the afternoons, told us they are only roaming about. No toys, no activities.
I can make simple Montessori-type teaching aids by myself for these children. I will try to get our people to help me purchase the materials needed to make those teaching aids myself.
But I would really need you to ask for some sponsors for waterproof mattresses, and anything else you can think of as well.
Telling you that the Deputy Principal of the Special Needs school has seen today (after 25 yrs in the school) for the first time how Braille (the blind script) works, should speak for itself.
There is no knowledge of modern educational materials. The teachers need to be taught.
This is a government school. But the braille typewriters stand unused because teachers are not knowledgeable about their use.
There is a computer room with about 16 computers in it and I am told the deaf children can never learn to operate a computer.
When I mention that there are loads of educational games available for cheap or even free online (like for example sorting a picture to match a word), the teachers in the class who are on their cell phones and the manager as well say they hear that for the first time.
Who can support us to be involved in helping??? It’s not just material needs. The children are sleeping their formative years away. So much could be done.
The kids were desperate for a hug and an appreciative word.
This lovely young first grader sang for us a song with a voice as clear as a mountain stream. So beautiful. Her teacher was the mopst enthusiastic of all the teachers we met, although she has to make do with materials more than 20 years old – only two buckets full of plastic toys, no numbers or counting beads, no alphabet to feel etc. I want to make her some tools like that.
This little blind girl touched my heart with her beautiful song about the love of Jesus she was singing for us. I so hope to have the time soon again to go again and show the teachers how to use teaching aids.
What I can not do is to buy 360 standard mattresses with plastic covering.
The sad thing is that my skin colour is always putting me in the box of “rich and responsible for everything”. Which is not true – I had to even borrow a car to go there.
The classroom with a teacher I really enjoyed. She was trying to do the best for her grade 1 learners with whatever materials she had.
The teacher urgently needs some toys and learning materials. All she has are some plastic toys in two plastic buckets.
I can rally my friends to help get 360 stuffed toys so the kids do not have to sleep alone on a cold room.
I can make teaching aids.
I can get books and building blocks.
I can try to inspire the teachers to re-open the workshops so that students can produce goods to the benefit of all. (toys can be self made as well).
Can you help us contact organizations who might donate modern day teaching aids to the school?
I can talk to farmers to donate fresh produce and food.
I can buy treats.
I can inspire my youth group to come and do a show for the kids and minister the love of Jesus to them.
Can you find sponsors for the mattresses and other material needs?
Lots of blessings to you from South Africa,
Christiane van Heerden