Written by: Khula Development Group
Article Source: JOY! Magazine
Khula Development Group’s mission is to reintegrate primary school children in disadvantaged communities, at risk of dropping out, back into the school system. Khula is active in 22 schools in 5 areas in and around Paarl and Stellenbosch.
Susan Botha, a 40-year-old widow from Paarl, lives in a two-bedroom shack with her five children. The shack is in her mother’s garden and consists of one bedroom and a kitchen. Unemployed, with social grants as a source of income, Susan was constantly confronted with challenges in her life…
Susan with Marie-Louise, KDG Programme Facilitator
Anxiety, stress, and hardship
Susan’s mother supported her and her family emotionally and financially after the death of her husband. Susan is a quiet person and generally remains indoors. The fact that she could not afford to go out made it easier for her to remain there. She went about her daily duties of cleaning and being a mother to her children. She also managed to hide her anxiety, stress, and demoralisation from those around her. Susan admits that it was difficult being a single unemployed mother to five children. She had to take out many loans to put food on the table, knowing repayment is another headache. Yet as a mother, she did what she had to in order to survive.
Reaching out to Khula
In 2016, on top of her hardships, one of her children, Theodore (aged 8 at the time) started acting in a concerning manner at school. He did not co-operate in class, and his teachers became very frustrated. This ended up with Theodore spending more time outside the classroom than inside. The Principal decided to approach Alta Bester, one of Khula Development Group’s In-School Support Facilitators, and asked her to observe Theodore to determine what could be wrong with him.
Assessing the situation
At that stage, a retired grade R teacher was a volunteer in the Khula Classroom he was placed in. After extensive work with him, she concluded that he could not function on a grade R level. Alta started researching and put him through different tests and activities to determine his abilities. One day he was able to complete a certain task, the next day he struggled with that very same one. Occasionally he would also have outbursts.
Positive for autism
Alta arranged to have Theodore tested for autism at Paarl Hospital. The results came back positive. This was quite a shock for Susan, as he showed no signs of any disability or disorder while growing up. Susan notes that at times it was hard to get through to him at home. The only comfort would be holding him tightly and hugging him.
Finding appropriate schooling
After Theodore’s diagnosis, it was determined that he should be medicated daily. Unfortunately, the Autism School did not want to take him in as they described him as ‘incontrollable’. Most of the children attending the school already had an established routine, while he did not. He was then referred to Ligstraal, a school for special needs children in Paarl.
Thriving with help
In the meantime, Susan, enrolled in Khula Development Group’s Primary Caregiver Programme, administered by Marie-Louise Rautenbach, Programme Facilitator. She was referred to this programme after Theodore joined our In-School Support Programme. Here she was educated on autism and advised on ways to stimulate and connect with Theodore. Marie-Louise and Alta encouraged Susan to create a standard routine for him. Susan admits that since she implemented it, things are going better at home. Occasionally she makes use of images to describe things to him. He enjoys driving to school with the school bus, loves watching 7de Laan, and is a huge music fan. During his school concert in 2018, he was part of the closing dance act and enjoyed it to the fullest. He is waiting in anticipation for this year’s concert.
Theodore in his class at Ligstraal School
Finding comfort in Jesus
Susan admits that it was a huge struggle to accept her son’s diagnosis, it was the last thing she expected. Although the test results brought so many questions and stress, Susan found her comfort in the Lord. She prayed continuously and asked the Lord to keep her calm and help her with this great new task.
Working hard for her family
Susan still attends the Primary Caregiver sessions faithfully. This is a safe space where she can laugh, cry, and pray with other women who support her. Susan did not only listen attentively when financial topics and family were discussed in these sessions, but she also applied it in her household. The Lord answered her prayers. Susan found steady employment as a cleaner at a beauty salon in Wellington. She is determined to improve the quality of life for her children.
Filled with grace and joy
In terms of progress, things are going well for Theodore. In his previous school, he struggled to adjust to groups and always wanted to be on his own. Today, Theodore is not even enrolled in the autism class at Ligstraal. He attended that class in 2018, however it was concluded that he is more advanced than the other autistic kids. Today, at 11 years old, he lovingly attends the grade 2 class where he loves reciting poetry, doing maths, and working with shapes and colours. All the problems he encountered at the mainstream school are a thing of the past. He is disciplined, co-operates, and encourages his classmates to keep quiet when the teacher requests them to.
Theodore with his Teacher, Mrs Adonis
Getting life back on track
Susan notes that Khula helped her get her life on track through the Primary Caregiver programme. She is grateful to Khula for helping with her son’s diagnosis. If not for Alta and Marie-Louise, Theodore would still be that little boy roaming outside the classroom because nobody could understand him. She sees him as a happy, content child. Acceptance was the first step towards improvement in her life. Even though it was a painful process, she did it because Theodore is her son and she believes God would not give her a child she is incapable of handling. If Theodore was never diagnosed, who knows if Susan’s life would have taken a turn for the good. Her future plans include demolishing her shack, relaying the foundation, and erecting a new-tech home by the end of 2019.
We are so proud of her. As the slogan of Khula goes, “through love and education, we can make a difference”.
Visit Khula’s website for more information www.khuladg.co.za
Date published: 14/09/2019
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