Growing up in Grassy Park and being an activist for the League of Friends of the Blind (Lofob), Dr Armand Bam is well suited to his role as the current executive director of the organisation.
Bam recently obtained his PhD from the University of Cape Town.
From a young age he constantly questioned his role in bettering the community in his capacity as a young and able-bodied person.
Bam started his tertiary education at Stellenbosch University where he pursued his studies in the field of biokinetics.
He later went on to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Practice at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. Although he started his career as a biokineticist, where he managed corporate wellness programmes, he instead found his way back into the NGO sector, driven by his passion to advance the lives of those who are blind and visually impaired within his community. He served Lofob in various capacities, starting out as the wellness sport and recreational officer, a position he held on a voluntary basis for almost three years. Between 2010 and 2013 he held the position of manager of the Wellness and Independence Development Services programme.
At the end of 2013, Bam was appointed Lofob’s executive director, a position he has been holding for almost five years. Prior to assuming this position, Bam completed his Master’s Degree in Disability Studies at UCT.
He continued to excel academically and in his first year at the helm of Lofob took on the challenge of furthering his studies at UCT’s Graduate School of Business, culminating in the awarding of the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Business Studies.
His thesis, titled “Embodying virtue in employment: exploring the employment experiences of people with disabilities”, will further assist in developing not only Lofob’s prospects of improving the employment opportunities of blind people, but also the broader disability community.
Bam is extremely passionate about the future of education for people with disabilities and has employed a number of strategies to ensure access to mainstream education opportunities for blind and visually impaired children, youth and adults. The field of education and employment of persons with disabilities has been his area of focus for the past five years.
“Under his excellent leadership, the organisation this year started a new chapter and received status as a training institution accredited with the Education Training and Development Practices (ETDP) Seta. Lofob is in the process of rolling out a National Diploma in Orientation and Mobility Practices (SAQA NQF Level 5). This will be followed by a range of exciting short courses to enhance the training and development of blind and visually impaired people,” says Lofob spokesperson, Heidi Volkwyn.
Bam says that for decades, access to orientation and mobility training and services has been constricted and controlled.
“It was controlled by those who benefited from the unevenness of our country’s historical past. According to our understanding there are just over 50 qualified orientation and mobility instructors nationally. There are approximately 1.4 million blind and visually impaired people in South Africa. We are proud to say that the time of restricted services has come to an end,” says Bam.
He adds that Lofob has, throughout its existence, sought to pioneer new avenues to ensure their clients are able to live improved lives and contribute meaningfully to their communities.
“We do not wait for things to change – we make the change. I am most proud of the fact that we are able to offer people an opportunity to gain a qualification within their disability,” says Bam.
Lofob celebrates 85 years of service this year and prides itself on the many achievements over the years, notably the role played in the establishment of early childhood development services in the country and the development of blind women’s empowerment programmes.
“Furthermore, Lofob was a voice for the disadvantaged community, which put the organisation at the forefront of the struggle to eradicate racism and correct the segregated structure long before apartheid was abolished. Lofob received international recognition for the work done and had a voice at the United Nations and was instrumental in contributing to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” concludes Volkwyn.