Namibia
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Hope for children with special needs

The Side By Side Early Intervention Centre (SBSEIC) at Goreangab in Windhoek has for a decade been running programmes to assist children with special needs to prepare for mainstream schooling.

The centre also educates parents on catering for the needs of children with various disabilities, centre managing director Huipie van Wyk told The Namibian yesterday.

“The centre was established in 2013 by Sandra Hollweg, who was a volunteer from Germany at the time,” Van Wyk said.

“She saw the need in Namibia and started by initially helping two or three children at their homes doing home programmes, whereafter she got this premises, then she started bringing these children in.”

Van Wyk said she developed a passion for working with those who have special needs a few years ago, when her own daughter was born with a disability.

“I had to find people to help me understand her needs, after the doctors told us that she probably wouldn’t live a year,” Van Wyk said.

“We had to make sure that whatever time we had left with her would be of great quality,” she said.

Van Wyk said Sandra was reportedly unable to get her work visa renewed in 2017, which was when she asked Van Wyk to take over the leadership of the centre.

“When I took over, we were supporting about 24 children, we are currently standing at 120 children,” said Van Wyk.

The centre depends on donations, with B2Gold as the main donor covering the day to day expenses.

“With the imminent closure of B2Gold, there are initiatives in place to ensure that all the non-profit organisations they were funding remain sustainable, so there is an exit plan and that is what we are sticking to,” said Van Wyk.

“We will be losing B2Gold by the end of this year or next year, so we have also gotten in touch with other businesses, such as Entrepo Namibia, who will be taking up a huge portion of the responsibility in supporting us,” she said.

In addition, the centre runs several awareness drives to source funds, and is also funded by Unicef for their regional training activities, while activities like home visits are funded through fundraising activities.

“We have initiatives in place to establish partnerships with companies who will commit to a monthly donation of N$1 000, all in an effort to support the centre,” Van Wyk said.

The centre aims to offer therapy for both parents and children, home visits and home programmes, and to educate parents on the evolving needs of children with disabilities.

“We educate parents on the needs of their children as they evolve from over five to 10, to help them prepare for mainstream schools after a thorough assessment has been done, and to advocate their inclusion within their societies.”

The last five years have been dedicated to establishing strong relationships with various organisations for the sake of remaining sustainable, she said.

“Accountability is key in any donor-based organisation and we try to uphold the highest standards of accountability with the donations and sponsorships we get,” Van Wyk said.

“We have organisations sponsoring food on a monthly basis, which we put in parcels to hand out to parents to ensure that our children are well nourished.”

She said there has been notable improvement in terms of donors over the years, as the organisation was able to build trust gradually.

“We do not charge our children, however, there is a small monthly contribution of N$100 which is used for taxi money, should the parents run out of money to send the child to the centre at any point in the month,” she said.

The idea is to ensure the children do not miss out on any of the centre’s activities, she said.

“We also have a volunteer programme in place aimed at helping parents who are financially challenged and aren’t able to cater for the essential needs of their children, such as food or nappies for the severely disabled children,” Van Wyk said.

“Say for instance, a parent is unemployed because they are devoted to taking care of their child with special needs, and thus they experience hardship with basic needs such as food, we have them come in to the centre to help with basic chores such as cleaning and they earn points for that. They use the points to buy pre-packed food parcels at our volunteer shop.”

The centre has 27 staff, with 19 on a full-time basis, and the others serving as volunteers.

The centre also has a kitchen, whose sole purpose is to ensure the children are able to concentrate and learn.

“We have about 42 children with cognitive or severe disabilities and we need to ensure that they are well nourished in order to see results when we start with rehabilitation as we help them achieve their milestones,” she said.

There are also plans to expand the initiative to other regions over the next few years.

“We hope to be financially stable enough to establish centres in all the regions around the country, and the idea is not to call them all Side By Side if the communities in which they are established are willing to take ownership of the initiative,” she said.

“Overall, we just want to be able to give financial support, should there be other centres established,” she said.

Rosalina Diarry (14) is one of the children currently served by SBSEIC, since 2019.

Diarry has cerebral palsy, which affects one’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.

“When I am here, I feel at home, and I feel like I have a family by my side,” Diarry said.

She said her mother has tried to seek placement for her at several schools in Windhoek, to no avail.

“We tried to go to Môreson and Martti Ahtisaari, but they said they can’t take me,” she said.

“I want to thank Huipie and my mom for bringing me here. I found friends and teachers who make sure I feel comfortable.”

Diarry encourages parents who have children with similar conditions, to bring them to the centre.

Daycare head teacher Rencia Eichas has been with the SBSEIC for the past five years.

“We deal with children with a range of different conditions, including autism, physical disabilities and more,” Eichas said.

“I love what I’m doing, it’s a great experience.”

Eichas draws a lot of satisfaction from the achievements of her pupils, she said.

“It takes a lot of hard work and patience to work with these children. Teaching them something may take over a month or two before they can grasp it, and when they do, the experience is so fulfilling,” Eichas said.