Promises yet to be honoured at Rivoni School for the Blind

Promises yet to be honoured at Rivoni School for the BlindRivoni School for the Blind is one of six schools in Limpopo that accommodates visually-impaired and blind learners and offers classes from Grade R to Grade 12. (Photo Credit: Health-e/ Ndivhuwo Mukwevho)

Unconditional love fills the gaps caused by poor infrastructure, and helps ensure the academic success of visually-impaired learners in Limpopo.

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Joyce Mthombeni, a teacher at Rivoni School for the Blind, Elim, says that the extra time and love teaching staff provide are some of the main reasons behind the success of the school, which has produced top-performing matriculants despite adverse teaching and learning conditions created by poor infrastructure.

Situated a few meters from Elim hospital, Rivoni School for the Blind is one of six schools in Limpopo that accommodates visually-impaired and blind learners and offers classes from Grade R to Grade 12. Mthombeni, who has taught at the school since it was established in 2006, explained that compassion, patience and love are key ingredients in facilitating learner’s academic growth.

“Love is everything, and when disabled learners know that they are loved and appreciated, they tend to give their all and study even harder. Over the years, the experience I gathered working with special needs learners has taught me to always practice patience while teaching them, which I believe is something my colleagues also do,” said Mthombeni.

School vital to independence

Rivoni School for the Blind was created by Swiss ophthalmologist Dr Erika Sutter, who worked as an eye specialist at Elim Hospital, and pioneered care groups and community-based initiatives on blindness prevention and visual-impairment healthcare. The school came about from the efforts of people, like Sutter, to provide quality, accessible education to blind and visually-impaired learners.

Mthombeni believes that most of the learners take their education seriously because they know it is vital for their future success and independence. Last year the school produced a 100% matric pass rate, a goal they have achieved for the past few years. This year, a Rivoni matric student, Tiyani Mbendzani, was the top performer in the Limpopo special needs schools category, and was invited to a breakfast with Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, alongside other matric top achievers.

Hard work pays off

Mthombeni noted that resource and infrastructure issues are not unique to Rivoni but that the school puts in the effort and care to produce top matriculant results.

“Rivoni is no different from other special schools in the country, as we do not have the latest teaching tools and the best infrastructure. But what makes us better than the rest is the hard work we put as teachers against all odds,” said Mthombeni. 

“We do encounter challenges like any other school […] sometimes learners do not want to attend classes and we have to fetch them from their rooms. When working with disabled and visually-impaired learners one needs to keep in mind that they did not choose to be born this way, but God made them different for a reason,” she added. 

Mthombeni credited the school’s foundation phase teachers with the most difficult teaching work to do, as “they are the ones who teach learners how to use braille machines and ensure that by the time they reach matric they are well trained.”

Infrastructure not up to scratch

Although teachers work hard to provide disabled and visually impaired learners with the best possible teaching and learning environment, infrastructural problems continue to jeopardise student’s education and quality of life. 

The challenges faced by the school range from failing infrastructure to inadequate resources, and, currently, there is a shortage of braille machines. These machines are crucial for visually-impaired learners, as it allows them to write. Learners are forced to share a few old machines, which greatly delays the teaching and learning process.

Over the years, Rivoni learners have disrupted classes, and used their walking sticks to locate and barricade the R578 and D3831 roads that lead to Elim hospital, in protest. The learner’s demands are clear — they need better accommodation, sanitation and classrooms, as the current infrastructure does not support their needs, and the environment is often dangerous to the lives of learners.

Promises, promises, promises

Currently, the visually-impaired learners have been forced to use mobile classrooms and dilapidated accommodation while waiting for the new school to be built by the Department of Education. During Limpopo Premier, Stan Mathabatha’s visit to the school earlier this month, he said he was concerned about the current conditions at the school, and promised that the building process for a new school will begin in April this year. 

“We are banking on the promise made by the premier, as I believe it’s been long overdue, but learning and teaching has to go on normally. Despite our conditions, we have been able to produce top-performing matric learners, such as Tiyani Mbedzani, who was one of the top 30 matrics nationally,” said Constance Mabaso, Rivoni school principal.

The spokesperson for the provincial Department of Education, Sam Makondo, said all the necessary arrangements have been made in terms of building a new school for Rivoni learners. Now, teachers, parents and learners wait for the actual work to begin. – Health-e News