WATCH: A crusader for disabled children in Soshanguve fights to restore their dignity

2016-09-15 11:41
Christinah Mahlangu (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)

Christinah Mahlangu (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)

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Pretoria - To those who know her, Christinah Mahlangu is selflessness personified.

Mahlangu, a physiotherapist by profession, noticed how difficult it was to place her little patients in schools that would help them improve physically and psychologically.

"I have been working with these kids for almost 8 years now and I have had problems transferring them from clinics to schools because not all schools could accommodate them," she told News24.

Having identified a problem, Mahlangu decided to apply Mahatma Gandhi's principle of being the change you wish to see in the world.

She started Ntuthuko Stimulation Centre in Soshanguve Extension 4, north of Pretoria, to cater for the needs of the children she worked with.

"I decided to start Ntuthuko to try and accommodate some of them that did not meet the criteria of other schools. I chose this area because that's where I found the majority of them," she said.

Mahlangu explained that having seen how the children's struggling parents were showing dedication and following her instructions compelled her to be an agent for change.

Inspired by dedicated parents

"Looking at the parents, dedicated, coming to my clinic, listening to the advice you give, doing what you expect them to do, I just felt they also needed to get an opportunity. Looking at them, we have young mothers that are still in high school, we have mothers that can't leave their jobs because they are the only breadwinners. I said 'okay, if they are so compliant, can't I just help them in one way. Take care of this child and then they can continue in other areas of their lives'," she said.

The centre takes care of children with disorders including muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, epilepsy, Down’s syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders, attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiance disorder and limited hearing. Mahlangu and her team also give the children basic educational training.

"We give them therapy; we stimulate them in different ways according to their level of function or their level of cognition. We have different groups also divided according to their levels of function. We give therapy individually and we also have higher functioning learners that will get basic education on shapes, colours, body parts so that we can prepare them to go to higher functioning schools," she said.

To ensure that the care and lessons they give are effective Mahlangu and her team literally go down to the level of the children. Seeing them crawling on their hands and knees with the children is an ordinary sight.

Observing her and the children at the centre, News24 noted how an attentive Mahlangu interacts with them. Those who can't speak and only communicate by making sounds are not excluded. She knows what their sounds mean.

"Try. Try. Daar's hy," she encourages. Once the child masters the exercise, praise rains on the young one. It eventually becomes an affectionate battle for her attention.

The task of caring for the children has not been without its challenges, one of the main ones being that the centre is run with money from Mahlangu's own pocket.

"It's been very rough. I have been using everything from my pocket since day one and it's now three years and four months. From the beginning I had to sacrifice a lot of things, including family; and not everyone in your family will understand why you are doing what you do. They had to adjust, support me and I'm very glad they did," she said.

Need for proper structure, transport

Mahlangu has had to depend on handouts and donations to ensure that the children have basics such as toys and playing mats. Unlike conventional facilities that have been built to specifically cater for those with disabilities, she has had to learn to make do with what she has.

"I have been trying to get donations here and there with people donating blankets, carpets and toys but I would like to have a proper structure. As you can see we are using Wendy houses which are not proper because in winter it's too cold and in summer it's too hot. Most of our kids are epileptic so they can easily get convulsion in the structures," she said with a look of worry on her face.

Despite the need for a proper facility, Mahlangu indicated that she was more concerned about providing adequate scholar transport for the little ones.

"I would love to get a proper structure and my biggest concern now is transport. We have 17 kids coming and the transport we have can only accommodate seven. During meetings or workshops where we need all the staff members to attend, three or four will have to remain behind because of transport. That is my biggest challenge besides the structure at the moment," she said.

Mahlangu, who has even bigger plans for the centre, admitted that the work she does was not for everyone, saying those who do it had to have hearts of gold.

The mother of one juggles two jobs to make enough to be able to run the centre and take care of her family.

"I'm employed full-time at Steve Biko Academic Hospital as a physiotherapist and I try do locums on weekends just to try and have a bit of cash because I have a responsibility at home, I have a son. But my long term plan is that by 2018, on our 5th birthday, I will have Ntuthuko as a centre that accommodates kiddies 24 hours," she said.  

Read more on:    pretoria  |  disabilities  |  education

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