Bel Porto School in Lansdowne is having major financial issues and staff are calling on the community and local businesses to help them keep the educational centre alive. The school serves the educational and therapeutic needs of learners with severe intellectual disabilities and has been in existence since 1985 as the result of the amalgamation of Sunnyday Centre and the Marah Training Centre.It moved to its present Lansdowne premises in 1991.School principal Ilona Herman says with an increase in learners, she is forced to ask for help from the community. “We are having enormous financial challenges at the school, especially when it comes to sport, and are calling on the community to assist us. There is too much to mention and I hope people can come forward and assist where needs be. We try to host fundraising events throughout the year and are trying to brainstorm more ideas to uphold Bel Porto,” she says.“We have a lovely animal farm on our premises that we are hoping to use as a source of bringing in funds. This section is animal therapy for the learners. However, there are challenges with money, in that we need to feed the animals and nurture it. We want to make the space beautiful and maintain it with the hope of asking neighbouring schools to bring their learners in outings. It’s a beautiful location and we could raise funds this way.” Herman says more volunteers are needed to help oversee learners. “We are looking for more people to come on board and lend extra hands. We are short of three class volunteers at the moment. We can’t pay them super salaries, but they earn double for the great work they do with these children. Computers and wheelchairs don’t have hearts, but teachers have beautiful hearts. And this is where we need help,” she says.“Many parents can’t afford to pay school fees and we shouldn’t make them feel bad for not being able to afford it. But what they can do instead is to do community service of 20 hours a year and spend their time with the children. But a lot of parents have given up. People also don’t want to sponsor salaries and would rather sponsor things, but you have to weigh human resources above your physical resources and the helping of our teachers is about the heart.”She says selecting volunteers also comes with challenges. “We have to be very careful when selecting them. We would have to do background checks on them, to ensure they have no criminal or abuse records with children. They need to have great empathy for children. The safety of our learners is our biggest concern,” she explains.“To mention one of many issues: We have buses that transport children, but it does not accommodate wheelchairs. Some of the children in wheelchairs are very heavy and due to their disabilities they can’t move themselves. We have teenage girls travelling and it is not nice for them to be picked up and placed on the chair. If we can get at least two of our buses to accommodate wheelchairs in it, it will be great. But to make these changes comes with major financial burden and would need the community’s help.”Herman urges locals businesses and parents to show support with the hope of improving the service of and environment at the school. V For more information call Bel Porto School on 021 696 4134.