Thuthukani Special School needs sponsorships and donations to keep our doors open to educate children with severe to profound intellectual disability. However, our community involvement does not mean that we only stand with our hands out, begging for help; we also have many outreach projects to enable us to give back to the communities around us.
Firstly we have Parent’s days twice a year on a Saturday and we have monthly parent support groups where we invite the learner’s parents to visit their child’s class on a school day. These support groups are extended to learners on our waiting list, learners with Cerebral palsy and learners who have Autism Spectrum Disorder. On these days we assist parents with transport to and from school and we offer a tuck shop. These groups are designed to educate the children’s parents and caregivers on issues surrounding their disability and education. Group sessions, demo classes and discussions with the learner’s teachers are invaluable to help uplift the learners and their parents. Parents are also free to visit the school any day with their child to see the teacher, nurse or therapists if they need information or assistance.
We have close links with our neighbouring school, Dover School, who let us use their sport field on a regular basis and they use our hall when needed. Other mainstream schools share resources with us on a regular basis.
Thuthukani participate in community events such as ladies days, church fetes, and are often invited as guest speakers at events to raise awareness of the plight of the disabled. We have an active community outreach program that is supported by the local Indunas, and we have been invited to do awareness training at FET colleges and local businesses.
Teachers and Therapists from Thuthukani Special School are often asked to be guest speakers at congresses or at training sessions. Our crowning achievement in this area was when we were asked to present a paper at the 2012 World Down Syndrome Congress. We often host teachers and managers from other Special Schools to assist them in developing or improving the program they offer at their schools. We work with Universities and we provide opportunities for students in the field of education, social work and psychology to learn more about the day- to- day work with children who have intellectual disability.
At all our fundraising events we ensure that we raise awareness of our school and our program, while educating the community about the special ways that our learners’ disability impact their lives. Battling against the stigma of intellectual disability and fighting against words like “retard”, “crazy”, “mad”, is an ongoing process. We support our children and parents in our communities against this discrimination and marginalisation by continuously educating everyone we come in contact with.
Some of the donations we receive are second-hand clothes or food hampers. The Social Worker, with the help of other staff members, is responsible for identifying learners in need, and distributing the donated items. Any items that are left over or not suitable for our learners, are donated to other charities in the community.
Thuthukani Special School has been identified as a Resource Centre by the National and Provincial Department of Education to pilot the National Educational Policy on Inclusion. Our work has been recognised internationally – We have had visits from schools and universities from all over the world, like Michigan, UK, Hong Kong, Brazil, Norway, New Zealand – to mention a few. Our Skills Development Program is run with the support of Rotary Empangeni and has received an international Rotary award.
Our school leaver and school-to-work link programmes and other teaching philosophies were included in the newly developed National Curriculum for children with Severe Intellectual Disability (CAPS Grade R-5 for learners with Severe Intellectual Disability), specifically the subjects Life Skills and Physical Education. Our teachers are involved in training teachers and senior officials on this curriculum nationally and locally in the above subjects, as well as Languages and Mathematics. We have many community outreach programs and we have solid relationships with local traditional leaders and businesses. Surrounding schools, organisations and municipalities contact us for assistance and guidance in improving the support and education of people with intellectual and physical disabilities as well as their families.
Fundraising in the Community
Just as it takes a village to raise a child; it takes a generous community to educate children with severe to profound intellectual disability. Thuthukani Special School receives a subsidy from the Department of Education, but this subsidy falls far short of the financial needs that we face to keep the school open in order to deliver quality service to the children in our care. Currently we need to raise approximately R 700 000.00 per year to supplement the subsidy.
The local communities, businesses and our overseas friends generously support us, and for that we are eternally grateful. Bell Equipment and Rotary Durban Bay helped us to renovate the old and build new toilets for our learners. Ten businesses in Empangeni offer on-the-job training to some of our learners in the Wednesday Amathuba Program. Friends of the school, the Hoggard family from New Zealand, have enabled us to provide stipends to our volunteers for many years. They also helped us to buy our school vehicle, fondly named Helen, after their daughter.
Many of our learners from low socio-economic backgrounds, come to school hungry. No child can learn on an empty stomach, so we have a feeding program that provides each learner with a basic breakfast and lunch each day. We receive government sponsorship, but we need to supplement the government-sponsored food with fresh vegetables and additional staples to provide our learners with a balanced healthy meal each day. We are grateful for any additional dried or fresh food donated to us. Umfolozi Casino and Resort sponsor our breakfasts, KFC’s Add Hope program and Abraham Dewa provide financial support, and Ritchie Auto sponsors our gas to cook the food.
We have very generous members of the community who support us regularly. Rotary Empangeni has given funds to develop the Skills Development program and they are still actively raising funds for this and other projects. Some of the businesses in the area support Thuthukani with annual donations or project specific donations, on which we have come to rely. Richards Bay Coal Terminal, Mondi Paper, Emergency Electrical, Hospital Farm Trust and Santam are some of the businesses who have been supporting Thuthukani for many years.
Thuthukani hosts an annual carnival, where local entrepreneurs support us. We have a triennial school concert, where our learners have the opportunity to participate in a large formal event for the community. Individuals in the community contribute to our “sponsor a child campaign” where they pay school fees on behalf of a child at school. Most of our sponsors have been supporting our children for many years.
Small groups of children who have autistic spectrum disorder and cerebral palsy are taken to Dayspring Farmyard where they are given the opportunity to benefit from horse riding once a week.
Some members of our staff are working as volunteers at the school. These volunteers are working as class assistants, cooks, gardeners and cleaners. Some of our staff and volunteers are ex-learners.
We do not have a boarding school, as we consider it important that the learners’ families remain involved in their lives and the children continue to be a part of their communities.
Bus companies in the area offer free transport to most of our learners to and from school on a daily basis.