Special Olympics South Africa and the Shudufhadzo Foundation this past weekend launched their partnership Fulufhelo Special School in Tohoyandou, Vhembe in Limpopo Province.
The partnership will focus on the mental health and physical well-being of children and adults living with an intellectual disability (ID) and also aims to create awareness of the challenges faced by people living with ID in South Africa.
Ms Shudufhadzo Musida, the Chairperson of the Shudufhadzo Foundation, who spoke at the launch said, “It is important to note that while ID is not a mental illness, children and adults with ID experience stigmatisation, discrimination, bullying, neglect and marginalisation which leaves them at greater risk of developing mental health issues. They are often diagnosed only with ID and not screened for potential mental health problems.”
The partnership was launched with the announcement of a pilot project at Fulufhelo Special School. The project will be addressing a number of challenges being faced by the school as well as introducing programmes to support the mental and physical well-being of the learners at the school. The programmes include health initiatives, sport and fitness, and an early childhood development (ECD). The project will also offer programmes to support to the parents and siblings of the learners.
Dr Mathews Phosa, the Chairperson of Special Olympics South Africa, had this to say about the partnership, “With regards to mental health, this is a conversation that needs to happen now more than ever in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Every country in the world needs to be having this conversation. The virus has infected millions of people across the world, yes, but many more millions are facing potential mental health issues as a result of this pandemic and we need to prepare for that. With regards to our project at Fulufhelo, global studies are beginning to show the alarming effects on the mental health of mainstream children who have had their lives disrupted by lockdown. How much more so the effects on children with special needs? They cannot be left behind! The partnership between Special Olympics South Africa and the Shudufhadzo Foundation is committed to using this project to create a model of support for learners with an intellectual disability that can be replicated at special needs schools across the country.”
Various local stakeholders have already committed to supporting the project, including the Departments of Education, Health, Sports and Social Development, and the University of Venda.
The project kicked off on the 12th March with the training of the first cohort of 50 Special Olympics Young Athletes programme practitioners from Fhulufehlo and a number of other schools and ECD centres in the community. All the schools and ECD centres that participated were provided with the necessary equipment to enable them to implement the Young Athletes programme in order to extend the benefits of the project to the rest of the community.
Another key area that the project will focus on is the issue of disability grants for the learners at the school. According to Mr Ramaano, the Acting Principal, at the school currently more than 300 learners do not receive social grants. This is largely due to the fact that the school does not have the capacity to correctly assess and diagnose all of the learners. He noted in his speech that this project will bring relief not only to the learners of Fulufhelo, but to the school as a whole including the staff and the parents.
Tshilidzini Hospital, the University of Venda and the Department of Social Development have offered to provide the necessary support and expertise to assist with the assessment and diagnosis to ensure that all of these learners are able to receive these essential grants.
“The School Governing Body, The School Management Team and the rest of Fulufhelo special school community would like to extend words of gratitude to Shudufhadzo Foundation which is in partnership with Special Olympic South Africa for adopting Fulufhelo Special School.”; said Mr Ramaano.
Further activities were identified that will be taking place over the next couple of months as the project gains momentum with a coached training and a family support activity scheduled in next month.