BACKGROUND

The Centre itself offers boarding and rehabilitation.  In 1998 the Centre was an institution, in the true sense of the word, where disabled children were taken care of by a large complement of staff, nothing out of the ordinary.  They were cared for, they received therapy and they went to school.

Today it is a totally different set up, a set up free of the infamous connotations of that word ‘institution’.  The children live in family groups in Independent Living Houses where they learn to look after themselves.  Each child, no matter how disabled finds some work within the family unit.  If you cannot use your hands then you help with the budgeting, with the preparation of duty rosters or with the younger children’s homework.  If you are strong but cannot hear then you can help lift the weaker children and they in turn will be your ears, or your interpreter.  Each child has a function, a position and no one is allowed to sit in a corner and feel useless.

In the past if anyone visited the Centre they would have heard silence and seen rows of small children seated in wheelchairs with nothing to do but stare into space.  Now any visitor will hear music as soon as they draw near, either radio music or singing from the students themselves.  Inside there are busy children everywhere.  They might be sewing, they might be cooking, they might be going down to Ascot for the shopping, they might be working in their gardens or feeding the chickens, they might be having a meeting to discuss the house problems, they might even be engaged in some form of income generating business.  We have many budding businessmen and women at the Centre.  One house runs the school tuck shop, another sells buns, yet another sells vegetables and haircuts!  The question now is not ‘what can I do’ but ‘how can I fit everything into a day?’

 

If you look for the little ones who are not yet big enough for ‘independent living’ you will find them in the specially adapted playground or painting or playing games.  You will always get a welcome in the Sunshine House and be asked to join in.  Even here the children are beginning to learn how to help themselves and each other.  A five year old who can walk will push his friend in a wheelchair to the dinner table.  A seven year old with good hands will bring the clothes for her friend who needs help with dressing.  In the two Houses for younger children most of the household chores are still done for them but they are still encouraged to help.  If you go into Sinqobile after lunch, one child is crawling on the floor sweeping up the crumbs while another is unsteadily wiping the table from her wheelchair, and a third is handed the plates to dry.

How did these changes come about?  At the end of 1997 the Centre was facing collapse, there was no money and an office file was opened called ‘Closure of the Hostel’! The future looked bleak, already the number of boarders had been reduced from 60 to 30 and several staff had been laid off.  Something had to be done to save the situation.  Slowly, changes were made and then suddenly it was not slowly anymore.  Changes accelerated and for those of us working here, it was sometimes difficult to keep up!  Buildings and equipment that had not been repaired for years responded to hammer, nails and paint.  The old hostel buildings were converted into independent living houses, leaks were fixed, gardens were planted, income generating projects were started, staff was trained and most importantly more children were brought in.

Staff became more involved in management, they became more geared to helping the children towards independence instead of doing everything for them.  The children became more independent and with this came the most amazing increase in confidence.  I can do that for myself’ became the keywords.  The children even ventured out into the public eye to show what they could do.  They took part in a public music concert (and won awards) they wrote a poetry book and launched the book themselves at a public ceremony, they joined basketball teams, they painted pictures, they made a training video on independent living.  They brought their parents in and showed them what they could do, then went home for the holidays and, for some of them, for the first time, they helped their families.

It is not possible to say that the problems are over.  Most of our children come from impoverished backgrounds, often from one-parent families with little or no regular income.  Far too many of them have lost family members, sometimes both parents in one year.  No matter how contented they may appear, how much they astonish us with their abilities, they are still disadvantaged, they are still in wheelchairs or on crutches, or cannot hear.  There is still not enough money and there is still so much work to be done.

However, over the past years an incredible revival has taken place at the Centre.  Visitors from all over the world come and marvel at the independence of our children.  Many wish their own children would so willingly undertake a half of what the children at KGVI do.   We do not pretend to be unique but we do know that our Independent Living is working and in the words of one of the children “independence is the future for tomorrow for us disabled people”.