Bringing hope and a positive future for children with disabilities According to Stats SA, “The national disability prevalence rate is 7,5% in South Africa. The prevalence of a specific type of disability further indicates that 11% of persons aged five years and older experienced visual difficulties; 4,2% had cognitive difficulties (remembering/concentrating); 3,6% suffered hearing difficulties, and about 2% faced communication, self-care and walking difficulties. The sad reality is that persons with severe disabilities will often experience difficulty in accessing education and employment opportunities. Further, households headed by persons with disabilities were also found to have less access to basic services compared to households headed by persons without disabilities. There were also disparities in terms of access to assistive devices across population groups and geography1”.
As part of its Health and Social Welfare programmes, SIOC Community Development Trust (SIOC-CDT), created their Capacity Building for Children with Disabilities programme in 2018. Targeting the entire Northern Cape, SIOC-CDT partnered with Uhambo Foundation to leverage their experience and expertise. At the time, there was a backlog of 1, 011 people and children requiring assistive devices to enable them to participate meaningfully in schooling and other socio-economic activities.
It was first identified that lack of transportation was one of the biggest barriers when it came to accessing rehabilitation services for people living with disabilities. Children and adults with mobility disabilities could also not access the services or resources for posture support mobility devices available and, as a result, suffered significant secondary complications.
Without correct posture support, children developed significant secondary complications. These included curvatures of the spine, dislocated hips and life-threatening pressure sores. The most common cause of death for people with mobility disabilities was preventable pressure sores.
Without mobility, children could also not go to school or participate meaningfully in their communities.
Of further concern was the lack of sufficient budget within the Northern Cape Department of Health (NCDoH) needed to procure mobility and other assistive devices in addition to a scarcity of trained personnel to assist in service provision. This was compounded by the NCDoH Rehabilitation team having identified an increase in the number of children with cerebral palsy and an increased need to support young children with disabilities of Early Childhood Development (ECD) and early school going age.
A third challenge was the stigma in the community against people living with disabilities, often resulting in a lack of referrals for assistance.
The project’s initial and pressing priority was to eradicate the backlog of devices for children in the Department of Health (DoH) database and to capacitate the 38 therapists employed by the DoH at the time. This capacitation focus encompassed ECD practitioners from at least 18 ECD centres, prioritising those located in SIOC-CDT’s beneficiary communities.
Over a three and half year period, SIOC-CDT has provided 350 new mobility devices (and properly seated each child), conducted a total of 138 sitting clinics at various sites throughout the province to increase therapists’ capacity to support children with disabilities, developed a referral capacity training programme, a referral pathway and held 60 community disability talks.
No fewer than 306 ECD practitioners from 44 centres were trained to work with children with disabilities with a specific focus on increasing knowledge around the importance of play; inclusion in school, family and community; the right to education for children with disabilities; and legal and policy framework for inclusion in South Africa. The training of the Department of Health Rehab team of Rehabilitation Clinicians on inclusive ECD programme support was expanded to include the Department of Education’s Severe to Profound Intellectual Disability (SPID) team.
To improve the severe disconnect between parents of children with disabilities and the networks of support in low-resource communities, a vibrant parent network was established throughout the three year period. Although not part of the initial project design, this parent network has played a significant role during 2021 and 2022 in raising the awareness of parents and has been a catalyst for local change. The parent network has grown in one year from 1 to 531 parents, of which 142 are in the Northern Cape, and the rest across South Africa.
Says Vusani Malie, CEO of SIOC-CDT: “The SIOC-CDT Health & Social Welfare team developed a united model that went beyond just supplying devices, focusing rather on building an ecosystem that is conducive for children with disabilities. It is believed that once children are appropriately seated, they can participate on par with their peers in school to help them realise their full potential.”
Although now complete, SIOC-CDT has ensured the sustainability of this project in the form of ongoing referral pathways, parent networks, training and mentorship programmes and more.
“The project close out report showed satisfaction from the NCDoH on all of the targets reached. We are very honoured to have been able to work in close collaboration with the DoH, our partner the Uhambo Foundation and the many ECD practitioners and teams that have formed such a key part of this project throughout its period of existence. We envisage a bright future for children with disabilities in the Northern Cape region.”
Following the success of the first project, the Board have approved the capacity building for children and adults with disabilities project for a duration of 36 months in the Thabazimbi sub-district- starting from 1st July 2022 and running until 30th June 2025. SIOC-CDT is undertaking this in partnership with the Limpopo Department of Health and Uhambo.
SIOC Community Development Trust (SIOC-CDT) was established in 2006 by Sishen Iron Ore Company (SIOC) (Pty) Ltd to invest in the uplifting of the communities in which the mining company operates in the Northern Cape and Limpopo. We invest significantly in community development projects aimed at ensuring sustainability beyond mining operations.
SIOC-CDT has substantiated its stated intention of “defining ourselves through actions, not our words” by investing over R1 billion in socio-economic and community development projects in its beneficiary communities; Gamagara, Tsantsabane, Ga-Segonyana and Joe Morolong in the Northern Cape, as well as Thabazimbi in Limpopo.