School For the BlindBy Thandi Mkhatshwa

School For the Blind

By Thandi Mkhatshwa

Published on Thu, Nov 12 2009 by Thandi Mkhatshwa
 South Africa--Ever since I was a child I had never liked waking up early in the morning.  But last week my little nine-year-old twin brother, Themba and I had no choice but to do so because we had a long day ahead of us. We had to travel the long road from my community of Acornhoek, a small town found in Mpumalanga province, to go to Polokwane, a big city found in another province, Limpopo. Until last week we had never been to Polokwane before, but through the help of a Social Worker, I had an appointment with the school principal of Selloe Special School, a school for the blind.

Although my little brother isn’t really blind, he is a perfect candidate to get accepted for admission to Selloe Special School. You see, over three years ago Themba was diagnosed with High Myopia, and as a result the eye specialists suggested that he attend school at a special school for children with the same problem as him instead of going to a normal school. But because Themba was just six years old at the time, and since our mother had just past away, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him too. And the fact that he, unlike his twin sister who is perfectly healthy, has another serious medical condition that constantly needs my full attention didn’t really make things any easier. I just couldn’t risk his life and send him away.

But seeing him struggle at his recent school over the past three years made me feel very guilty. I feel like I am depriving him of getting a better education.  He is constantly failing and repeating grades at his current school because of his shortsightedness.  I really don’t want him to feel like he is stupid, so a couple of months ago, I finally took the letter that the eye specialist gave me to a Social worker who would help find him the perfect school.

The Social Worker finally managed to find a possible school based at polokwane, although it wasn’t easy finding a school that caters to children like Themba since there are only ten schools for the blind in South Africa. Some of these schools don’t really have proper equipment to help with the lessons.

But last week, my little brother and I woke up at 5 a.m and traveled for five hours, changing from one taxi to another taxi to get to the school. And I must say it wasn’t cheap to get there. Together, we spent over R600 on transportation alone. Although we got lost on the way and had to walk about 5km back to the school, we finally found it before it was lunchtime at the school.

We had an interesting chat with the school principal, and she explained to me that Themba was already accepted for admission for next year.  She only wanted to meet us before next year so we could finalize the arrangements. She even explained to me that Themba will have to learn Braille instead, which didn’t surprise me really because he is not coping with normal text.  I could see that the other children of Themba’s age, who were also shortsighted, playing around the school-yard with other blind learners. Themba is currently repeating Grade 2, but he would have had to start from Grade R to learn the foundation of Braille. It all sounded okay to me, that is until the principal explained to me that, however, they will not be able to cater to Themba’s other medical condition, which could be live threatening if he doesn’t get the medical attention that he needs.

She told me that it was too big of a responsibility for her school to take on.  The only way this could work is if I agree to travel back and forth from Acornhoek to Pokwane every month to take Themba to the hospital here for his monthly visits. I was so disappointed in the school because they do have a nurse who could take my brother to the hospital near school every month, but apparently this is not part of her job description.

As much as I want for my brother to get the education that he deserves, traveling every month to Polokwane isn’t even an option for me at the moment.

It would cost me about R1000 a month for transport alone and my budget simply won’t allow it. But most importantly, I don’t want to put my little brother’s life at risk. I want a school that will be able to cater to his every need. His wellbeing is my number one priority and everything else comes second. After the principal and I were done with our meeting, my brother and I headed back home. It was already dark when we arrived back. I felt so disappointed and so helpless. The rest of the night I couldn’t sleep and I kept thinking about the issue.  I want my little bother to have opportunities like other children out there and his twin sister, but again I have hit a dead end. With this thought in my mind, I went back to the Social Worker’s office for help and advise again.  I explained to her how my appointment with the school principal of Selloe Special School went and she, too, was disappointed to hear that the school doesn’t cater to other medical conditions. Now the Social Worker and I are back to square one, and busy searching for another potential school. For my brother’s sake I do hope that we find a suitable school for him and very soon.

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