Jody Oliver, 20, made her mark in the history books of Grassy Park’s Fairmount High School when she passed her matric exams. Jody is blind. Thrilled to hear that she had passed last week, she described the “great experience” she had had.
An inspiration to other pupils, this confident young woman thanked Grassy Park’s League of the Friends of the Blind (LOFOB), where she lives, and her teachers and school friends who supported her throughout her school career.
“At Lofob, I was taught how to be independent,” Jody said.
Her attitude towards life is to do everything like a sighted person would.
“I wasn’t born blind but started having problems with my eyes when I was on the soccer field standing as goalkeeper in our girls’ team, at Fairmount High, in 2013.
“I told the teacher I can’t see the ball on the field. My friend had to walk me home. One morning, I woke up, feeling very ill, and my mother took me to an eye specialist.”
She learnt that she would have to have an operation to drain a build-up of fluid that was putting strain on her eyes. So she spent her 16th birthday on the operating table.
“I had to have a shunt inserted because of the pressure on my optic nerve, and that’s when they found a tumour in my brain. My mom asked where the tumour came from and the doctor said we had to make an appointment for a bigger operation – a dangerous operation.”
The surgery to remove the tumour took ten hours and cost Jody her sight.
“There were a lot of risks, and I lost my sight. The doctor, did tell me, however, that I could have been a vegetable or even died.
“Before I went for the operation, I put my trust in God, and I came out the same person. However, despite losing my sight, I do what a normal person does.”
Jody attended Lofob where she learnt that even though she had lost her sight she could still hold on to her independence.
“We are taught how to take care of ourselves. Armand Bam, executive director of Lofob, asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said I wanted to complete my matric.”
Jody’s parents never made it to matric and neither did her siblings. “I wanted to go back to mainstream school to get my matric.”
If any doubted her ability to tackle mainstream schooling without being able to see, those doubts were soon blown out of the water when Jody completed Grade 10 in 2014 and Grade 11 in 2015.
But it was in first term of 2015 that the tumour returned… and it was bigger.
“I went for another op to remove it – a 12-hour long operation. The tumour was bigger.
“I completed six weeks recovery, but I still passed Grade 11.”
Jody’s roller-coaster life in her dark world grew darker when she lost her mother.
“My mother had a severe stroke and a heart attack as she suffered from high blood pressure. A month later, she died.”
Jody was devastated: “I tried to commit suicide, and I felt pity for myself. But I eventually turned around and encouraged myself to take the negativity out of my brain.”
She pushed on, determined that nothing would rob her of her matric. She was aided along the way by a voice recorder and a volunteer who helped her with her homework.
“I also make use of a laptop sponsored by the Lions Club. There is a programme on my laptop which records information. The laptop then talks back.”
When the teachers gave her typed pages of homework, she used a scanner at Lofob to send them to her laptop which could read them back to her.
“I even have a talking calculator to help make my own sums,” said Jody.
She passed Afrikaans, English, maths literacy, hospitality and life orientation and would like to rewrite business studies and life science to improve her marks. After that, she hopes to go to college and study teaching.
“I want to teach in the mainstream school. If you don’t try something, you won’t know if you don’t try. I don’t care what people say or talk about me because I want to achieve things for myself. I want to stand out.”
Fairmount High’s principal, Terence Klassen, praised Jody’s performance, while Mr Bam said Jody’s story needs telling widely, as it’s an inspiration to those who hear it.
“When I sat down with her to have that conversation of what she should do with her life, it made so much sense for her to go to Fairmount High, where she could make it happen, but with our support and our resources. It only shows that human beings can achieve anything when key role-players, such as the principal, Lofob and Jody herself, work together,” said Mr Bam.