A Special Needs School: Love the Children

PS: Read the update on this post here: Revisited

 

When you live in South Africa, chances are that you are barely making it through your month.

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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.

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Africa runs at a very different pace (hurry up and wait).

This Special Needs School 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 the gardens are landscaped and the offices comfortable.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Classrooms around a courtyard.

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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.

I really wish the government would provide the funds to renovate the dorm rooms and add some cheer and deco to them.

Another dorm room.

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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.

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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.

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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 government seems to have no funding available to upgrade the cafeteria. The chairs and tables are so worn. I pray we will meet somebody with enough funds and a hart to change this!

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The library and resource room. The materials where basically 20 years old or older.

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Kids are between grade K (in South Africa it is called grade R) and grade 7.

The severity of their disability differs greatly.

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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.

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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.

I see the effort in teachign the children academic skills. It would be nice if some fun franchises such as Kindermusik could be sponsored to come in and support the teachers.

I noticed that there was only one crafts class,  all other craft classes such as sewing and wood work were closed down, although they could produce toys and the likes for the school. I hope the leadership will realize again that fundraising can and must come from within the school, and the nearby tourism due to the proximity of the Kruger National park would provide a great source of income if for example woodwork was to be sold.

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Another challenge I noticed is that 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.

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These teens were all desperate for a hug and some praise for their samplers of their work.

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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 want to bring toys for each child, but I am told that the teachers are afraid that this will cause strive amongst the children. I understand that problem.

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.

There is no visible application of modern educational materials. The teachers need to be taught to use computer programmes to teach vocabulary to the hearing impaired children.

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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.

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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.

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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

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19 thoughts on “A Special Needs School: Love the Children”

  1. Hi Christiane and family!

    i bring you warm greetings from Englehart, northern Ontario, where we have a lot of snow. Does it ever snow in South Africa? What is the coldest the temperature has gotten? What is your hottest day?

    On Linkedin there are 30 people who have viewed your piece. As a journalist I would like to offer this suggestion. I know that you are passionate about the issues you raise in your blogs. There is much to share. I think you would get many more views of your pieces if you edited them to be read in three to five minutes. Cover one issue and keep your comments focused on that one issue.

    We live in the age of the sound byte and instant information. I personally don’t like this, but that is the reality of our information age. Writing shorter is more difficult.

    You could have three pictures maximum in your blog piece, which highlight the issue you are writing about.

    Christiane, if you do these suggested changes to your blog pieces you will find yourself getting more views, which will hopefully lead to many more people willing to help you in your efforts to bring more resources to the people you work with in South Africa.

    You, your family and church are in our prayers.

    Keep fighting the good fight for your Lord.

    The peace of our Lord be with you all.

    Kevin

    1. Hi Kevin, you are of course so right! I will try to remember next time. You cannot sum up Africa in a nutshell otherwise you wont go beyond stereotypes. If we do not seize this hour, South Africa will loose the momentum to be the blessing it can potentially be and end up like the rest of Africa, plundered by selfish spirits. … We do get snow in the Cape and on the Drakensberg mountains. Our seasons are of course opposite to yours. Right now it is summer, in June we will have winter. While in our tropical northern provinces 13 degrees Celsius is considered extremely cold, in the South it can get up to minus 1 degree celsius in cold. In summer we have temperatures of averagely 36 degrees celsius. Here where I live we do have tropical rains right now, it has been raining heavily for the past 4 months! Blessings, Christiane

  2. Reblogged this on Mind's Seat and commented:
    I found this piece gave me greater insight to the struggle children face in Africa to get a good education. Please pray that God brings the people and the money to help the African people in their common struggle with poverty and to have hope for a brighter tomorrow.

    1. Thanks for sharing! I am currently in the process of getting sponsors for the 360 much needed waterproof mattresses as the old ones smell horribly of the night incontinence of the children. I am also making materials to teach the blind. Unfortunately a major educational company refused working with me to provide computer assisted learning to the deaf students. They’d rather throw away last years preschool learning software than share it. Sadly so.

  3. Sorry haven’t been back till now I have money to donate.. Can you send me directly to where the pay pal link is…. God brought this to mind as I asked him where to send the money… 🙂 I might forget but HE doesn’t.

    1. Hi there peace child, it is really sweet of you to come back to me about this school which has so many needs I hardly know where to start. I made and purchased a number of educational materials last week in addition to boxes full of toys, CDs and paint that we have ready at church to take in about 2 weeks time. In South Africa schools opened this week after summer holidays, so I was very busy with my own school as well. I will try to source supplies of seasonal veg and fruit as well. Most of all the Tshilidsinis teachers need training, gently and continously. Keep us in your prayers. To donate, you can just hit home on this blog and find a donate button to the left leading you https://mobile.paypal.com/za/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_express-checkout-mobile&useraction=commit&token=EC-1RR86566MK5591221 thanks and I will keep you updated!

    1. Hi, you can send a specifically dedicated amount to our ministry, Emmanuel Church Louis Trichardt
      which is Non Profit Organization
      NPO-Registration Number061-730-NPO
      A Public Beneficiary Organization
      PBO – Registration Number
      930018833

      Banking details
      Emmanuel Lighthouse Church
      Account number 331663058
      Branch Code 052549
      But since this is an South African bank it is much easier for you to use the paypal link next to the blog! 🙂

      1. Hi, thank you so much for your encouragement. The principal told us not to bring any Christmas gifts to the children as they are going back to their families over the holidays which are the big summer holidays here. He fears the families will just take and sell anything we give to the kids. So although I have collected a big stash of help, me and some helpers will only go in early January to make sure the things we are bringing will remain there with those children. I was able to buy 20 mattresses which cost me $500, but as I mentioned, 360 mattresses are needed. So any donations will go towards that, and I will keep you updated about how any funds received are being used, thanks a LOT!

  4. I am glad to know that you are there to help. It’s difficult to help and be careful how you do it. Remember, you don’t want to experience compassion fatigue. Blessings.

    1. Thanks! The hardest thing to get across to people is that we are not looking for your used toys. We need serious funds to provide specified teasching aids to the teachers and to help ugrade the facilities which are in totally unsuitable conditions for blind and hearign impaired children. But people seem to always want to dump their refuse and still feel they’ve done somethign charitable.

  5. “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.”

    Great post. So many needs here. Wish I could find a money making donkey for you! But I guess I am also wondering why 7-12 year old girls are wetting the bed?!

    1. Remember this is a school for special needs children – they have received zero education before coming to the school. Some first graders are 12 years old and haven’t even been taught their own name. I also inquired about the night time care they receive. It seems very rigid. No child may have any personal possession. I tried to explain to the Deputy Principal the emotional importance of ownership and also of a stuffed toy. I need to make sure they are not taken away when I am giving them. This school was a far cry from the horrible institutions we found in in Bulgaria or Romania in the 1990s. But still it is absolutely not up to any educational standards. You know, for my own kids there is no state-of-the-art school to go to. they have to make do with very little. In comparison to the way the people often live in the village, my children and these kids have it okay. Compared to German schools where there are long discussions about organic food for the children and appropriate colour schemes and extra-mural activities, allergies and educational toys – it’s poor. The split between the different world is frustrating. the headmaster will drive his SUV home to his villa, switch on his flat screen TV and eat upmarket food. He does not see the need for these kids to have these things. He is managing them. like a factory. So I have to be extremely careful not to offend him so the doors stay open. I can not arrive and know it all better although some stuff really angers me. He definitely wants cash donations. I want to donate educational toys. I am thankful for donations via paypal as I am right now busy making little sensory numbers and letter sorters for the primary school children. And you have no idea how I am craving a walk with my kids in a beautiful European park that has carefully crafted creative playgrounds in it… 🙂

    1. I experience it as a big disadvantage not to understand Venda. So far I haven’t found any comprehensive guide to the Venda language. To many, any western concepts sound suspicious. You won’t believe how seemingly “cut off” the Venda kingdom is from modern age…

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