Grabbing life by the horns

Dlamini Qaphelani has spinal bifida and is currently an educator at KwaZamokuhle Special School in Ephangweni, KwaZulu-Natal. He shares some of the challenges he has faced and his achievements, showing that anything is possible with a little hard work and motivation.

As a person with spina bifida, it was especially important to begin planning for transitions in childhood so that I would be able to lead an independent life as an adult. One of the most important lessons was learning to take care of my own health needs.

One the biggest challenges as a person residing in a deeply rural area is finding and using public transport. I reside in an area of Loskop in Enyezane. I only started school at the age of eight as I didn’t have a wheelchair at the time. I use to crawl around the mealie fields helping my mother plant seeds.

Getting that all-important education

When the opportunity arose (along with a wheelchair) in 1995 I grabbed it with both hands and started grade one at KwaZamokuhle Special School. After completing special school in 2000, I had no choice but to attend a mainstream school, AmaHlubi High School, at Ephangweni Mission.

Life was very comfortable: I had educators who supported me and peers who did not discriminate against me. In 2004, I started to play wheelchair basketball, which was introduced by Zenzile Nhanchengo and Sphamandla Gumbi. While we lost all our games in the first year, we were champions in 2005.

University life

In 2006, I graduated from high school with Matric exemption. Three years later, I was accepted to study Bachelor of Education at the University of Zululand, specialising in mathematics and mathematical literacy intermediate and senior phase. During my time at the university, I was also to assist other students with disabilities and was voted chairperson of students with different abilities.

Access at the university presented quite a few challenges. The computer laboratories, for example, were not wheelchair accessible. With the help of the late Dr RV Gumbi, former vice chancellor, students were given laptops.

I travelled to university by public transport with the help of a dear friend, Mthembeni Sithole, who always pushed me to the taxi rank and carried my bags. When I returned home, he used to wait for me in the taxi rank.

Career in mathematics

I graduated in 2012 and was employed by KwaZamokuhle Special School as a maths teacher. Mathematics is often considered a difficult subject. To me, it is easy and I always try to simplify maths so that my students understand it and can share my passion for the subject.

In addition, I teach tutorial classes to assist the high school learners in my area and I form part of the Lower Loskop Mathematics Cluster, where I type and prepare the best questions for mathematics in our circuit. I’m also a committee member of the Mathematics Leaders Committee in UThukela District. I am responsible for the grade 7 papers.

Giving back to the community

We formed the N3TV Bursary committee, of which I am chairperson, to assist students from extreme poverty in rural areas to access special schools. These schools are very expensive and the disability grant is not always enough. Currently, the Bursary is funding 17 pupils, one in Open Air Special School, Durban, 11 at Adelaide Special School, Gauteng, and five at KwaZamokuhle.

The bursary covers school fees, hostel fees, assistive devices (like wheelchairs), computer or laptop, and uniforms.

Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) is a committee that assists people with disabilities in the community around KwaZamokuhle, including Loskop, Ephangweni, Ntabamhlophe and Wembezi, through establishing support groups. The organisation is funding the support groups by granting them R10 000 for three years, after which the groups need to sustain themselves.

There funds were gathered through donations and churches. I’m currently chair of CBR and have been nominated to sit on the board of directors for the NGO CREATE that assists and empowers people with disabilities.

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