Minister Masutha marshals donors for blind and partially sighted children

galaMembers of civil society poured their hearts out to donate to the blind and partially sighted persons at Minister Michael Masutha’s fundraising dinner on 30 November in Pretoria. Companies also dug deep into their pockets to give to the cause, with amounts ranging from about R5 000 to a donation of R5 million by the Black IT Forum, which will be structured over a period and spent towards various needs such as equipment, technology and training.

The fundraising dinner was the Minister’s initiative to raise funds in support of 22 public schools across the country for learners with special needs, and particularly raise awareness and understanding of the experiences and needs of the blind and partially sighted learners.

Various companies donated substantial amounts at the dinner. Universal Health Care and Samancor Chrome donated R100 000 each, while Discovery donated R60 000. Tipp Focus Holdings donated R50 000. Acting National Commissioner James Smalberger announced that the department will provide offender labour to the schools. Individuals donated amounts ranging from R500 to R7 000.

Explaining the difficulties that blind and partially sighted leaners  face at school, Mr Chris Budeli, Manager Education, Social Inclusion and Development at the South African National Council for the Blind said all equipment and technology that the blind need are expensive. He gave an example of a brailler pen that costs about R12 000 and needs maintenance. The computer software JAWS, that decodes text and reads it out, is about R70 000.

Budeli recounted that during their schooling years in the 1980s and 1990s they had to get a sighted learner to read a textbook while a blind learner will type it in braille. It took months before a blind learner could have access to the information in a textbook, while sighted learners would have progressed with the syllabus.  He said even toys for blind children come in real-life sizes, so that the children can develop a clear understanding of the real size and shape of the representation. These make early childhood development for blind and partially sighted children expensive.

Mr Budeli said this necessitates a huge need for finances to make a meaningful contribution to the development of blind leaners. The fundraising dinner, he said, was a good effort to meet the needs of the blind and partially sighted children.

Minister Masutha expressed his appreciation and gratitude to all the donors. “You are special, you are so because when you are shown a cause, you respond in a manner that you did tonight. This is not my vision, it is your vision, you are the celebrities tonight and you must be proud of yourself,” he said. He acknowledged renowned blind personalities who are counted among the first to taste success despite their blindness, and said they chartered the waters for many to follow, including himself.

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