When Bronwen Jones couldn’t find a suitable school for her adopted blind daughter‚ she started her own
Desperate to have a caring and meaningful schooling environment for her adopted daughter‚ Dorah Mokoena‚ Bronwen Jones started the Johannesburg School for Blind‚ Low Vision and Multiple Disability in Auckland Park 15 years ago.
This was after local schools had rejected Dorah‚ particularly because of the severe injuries she sustained during a fire which consumed her biological family’s shack when she was just six months old.
Most of Dorah’s face was burnt off‚ leaving her without lips‚ eyes and a nose.
“Dorah had gone to a creche and she had come to the end of the creche [period] and they said now she can go and I asked them‚ ‘go where’ and they said that is up to the parent‚” Jones recalls.
She went in search for a school for Dorah‚ approaching both mainstream schools and for those for learners needing specialised care.
“What we quickly worked out is that often the schools are not particularly brilliant but you may have one or two brilliant teachers within them‚” says Jones.
Dorah landed in a school where she was in a class mixed with children who had a variety of disabilities.
Her teacher did all she could to accommodate Dorah but not everyone was so understanding.
“The pupils got quite used to the idea that if Dorah's nose comes off‚ we take it‚ re-glue it and give it time to dry in the sun and she sticks it on again but the adults were different‚” Jones said.
A short while later‚ things took a turn for the worse and Dorah was no longer welcome at the school.
The department of education tried to put her in another school with children who had various levels of mental disability.
Jones said she went there one day without the department officials and "found children colouring in pictures of people in biblical costumes.
“I asked what are they actually learning and they couldn't answer that and it became apparent that they had no provision for children who could not see."
She didn't take Dorah to the school.
By 2003‚ she had successfully opened her own school which would cater not only for Dorah but for other children who were at times rejected by society because of their injuries or disabilities.
Fifteen years later and the school has three teachers and five tutors and accommodates anything between 25 and 30 children.
Some of the children travel all the way from Ekurhuleni.
On Tuesday‚ Jones was still getting calls from parents who were desperate to find places for their children.
“I received a call from Witbank from a parent who has a 14-year-old who is blind and does not speak and has never been to school‚” she said.
Unfortunately‚ they couldn’t take the pupil in.
The school teaches everything from Braille‚ mathematics‚ life skills and even philosophy.
It is also a safe place‚ especially for the young girls who are blind‚ Jones said.
"How are they going to fight off an assailant? How are they going to report it if a person tried to hurt them? How would they phone someone for help?” she asked.
Each Friday evening‚ some of the children who stay with Jones as boarders take a walk to the Shell petrol station in Auckland Park where they hand out food to the homeless.
Jones says if anything‚ this teaches them to have empathy for those who are in difficult situations and it makes them realise how fortunate they are to have all they do‚ despite their disabilities.
But sadly‚ South Africa is just not built to cater for those living with disabilities.
Explaining this‚ Jones says: “Overseas‚ all medicine has Braille on it so when you buy your Panado‚ you can tell its Panado but we don't have it here.”
But Jones maintains that she will continue playing her part in advocating for those who cannot do so themselves.
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