Concentrate on your ABILITIES and not the DISABILITY.
November is International Disability Rights Awareness month, and began with the sub-theme “Children and young people with disabilities empowered to chart their own destiny through access to quality lifelong learning”. In commemorating this month, Barloworld Equipment, in partnership with Disability Connect, adopted a school as part of the Workplace Readiness Programme for Learners with Special Educational Needs (LSEN) schools.
The school adopted is the Bethesda House of Hope situated in Middleburg, Mpumalanga. We had a conversation with Shane du Preez, the Manager of the school, who shed light on the inspiration behind him working with children with disabilities, crucial life lessons shared with his learners and how the Workplace Readiness Programme has assisted his learners.
Q1: Can you give us a brief introduction to your school and the needs it caters to?
A: Bethesda House of Hope was established on 17 October 2003 and recently celebrated its 17th birthday. There was a need for a school and hostel facilities to cater for children and youth with special needs. What makes us unique is that both these facilities are situated on the same premises thus cutting out the problems of transport etc. We cater for children with all disabilities including intellectually disabled children, who generally struggle with mainstream education.
Q2. What inspired you to work in a school that caters for children with special needs?
A: I initially came to Bethesda to assist in the catering department for 6 weeks and a love for these special angels developed immediately. I found myself giving up my own business interests to focus solely on the care and development of these children. Most of our learners have been through the harshest of situations and ask for nothing but lots of love and attention. I am truly blessed to have taken over the management of the school since 2016 and I flourish on the love received from my learners.
Q3. What makes a special needs school different from mainstream schools?
A: Special needs learners need routine, constant guidance and 24-hour supervision. At our school, we are not seen as educators, but rather as the learners’ parents. The emotional wellbeing of our learners is a top priority, followed closely by the academics.
Q4. How do you equip your learners to deal with life beyond your school?
A: Most of our learners come out of very difficult circumstances. Rape, sexual, physical and mental abuses are just some of the hardships our learners have had to endure from a very young age. Poverty, a lack of resources or alternative educational facilities in Mpumalanga has seen some of these children being kept home for long periods without attending school. When brought to us, we begin by assessing their emotional state, followed by identifying their strongest academic focal points with the view of honing in and improving these. Most learners are sent to bigger centres at the age of 18 in the hope that they will be well cared for. A lack of advanced training facilities for young adults make it very difficult for them to find employment, which then makes it very difficult for society to accept them.
Q5. What key life lessons do you want all learners in special schools to learn and apply?
A: You are who God wanted you to be. Every special needs learner has their place in society. Concentrate on your ABILITIES and not the DISABILITY.
Q6. What has been the impact of the Work Readiness Programme on the learners who have been exposed to it?
A: The Work Readiness Programme has our learners abuzz with the vast information that was shared with them. It has created the motivation to succeed and to live their dreams of one day leading a lifestyle to which they have been accustomed to while at our facility.
Q7. Since November is a Disability Awareness month, with the sub-theme for week one focused on children and young people with disabilities being empowered, what advice can you give to learners entering the world of work or to parents who may be reintegrated with their children?
A: To the learners – Live your dreams. You are special.
A: To the parents and society – Accept our special needs learners for whom and what they are. Give them every opportunity to prove their worthiness. Be patient and caring and shower them with all the much-needed attention and guidance they deserve.