Families of people with disabilities sometimes struggle with accepting them as they are — and sometimes even keep their disabled family members locked indoors. This denies them fundamental human rights, and an opportunity to be active members of the community, whilst contributing positively to the economy. This kind of sentiment about people with disabilities prompted Tembisa businesswoman Thabitha Malinga into action.
“My younger sister was born with autism, and over the years we as a family took a conscious decision that we would allow her to live a normal life where there was no limit to the opportunities she could take advantage of,” says Malinga.
Malinga is the founder and CEO of Thabie Mobile Spa and TMS Beauty Academy. Her mobile spa business has been in existence for six years while the beauty academy has been running for two years.
“I started the academy because my sister and her son are both autistic — I have always wanted to provide my sister with a skill, so that she is well-equipped and able to raise her child. Being a spa owner, I wanted her to work in my spa,” she says.
Gentle learning curve
“Initially, I found it very challenging to teach someone who lives with autism, because the way they adapt and adjust to anything is different from your average person. But, from teaching her, I learnt that it’s actually not so bad. We tend to feel that because they’ve got a mental disability, they won’t be able to do many things but to my surprise, she did so well,” says Malinga.
Now her sister is able to perform a variety of massages and personal treatments, and perfectly complements the spa’s permanent and freelance staff. After having successfully trained her sister, she saw an opportunity to share the same skill with other women who were in the same position as her sister.
“From teaching her, I really wanted to give more to other women out there with autism. Most of the women that I train aren’t very academically inclined — some are autistic and some have dropped out of high school, for various reasons,” she says.
The beauty academy employs two facilitators who are sensitised to working with people who live with various disabilities. Training manuals have been customised for people with special needs and more focus is put into practical lessons, rather than theory.
‘I enjoy healing people’
Thabitha’s sister, Lerato Malinga, says that growing up she wanted to be a nurse but found that working in a spa helps people in a different way.
“I enjoyed being taught about massage therapy because it helps heal clients, and it’s fulfilling to heal people,” says Lerato.
As an adult, Malinga attended a skills college in Kempton Park, and later joined the Tembisa Self Help Association of the Disabled, an organisation that focuses on skills development for the disabled.
“We were taught how to make dishcloths and other things. It kept me busy and safe during the day. I used to enjoy going there,” she says.
Since she started working at the spa she says that her day is made when a client acknowledges her excellent work.
“When I am done giving a massage and the client says ‘Thank you’ — that makes my day. It makes me feel like I know what I’m doing, and I’m good at it. This makes my job worthwhile,” she beams.
Breaking the autism stigma
Malinga says that she has dedicated her work into ensuring that she eradicates stigma against families that have children who are living with autism.
“We are not doing enough when it comes to addressing stigma in our community and I hope that families who have children that are autistic, or are living with any other form of disability can see that it is possible for their children to have a productive life. There are many families that are struggling with children who have autism and I want to break the stigma.” — Health-e News