Thando passes matric despite the odds

Thandolakhe Stuurman, despite being visually impaired, passed matric at Fairmount Senior Secondary School, in Grassy Park.

The League of the Friends of the Blind (LOFOB) had once again successfully assisted a visually impaired pupil with achieving his matric certificate, from Fairmount Senior Secondary.

Thandolakhe Stuurman, from Parkwood, did not allow his eyesight to become a stumbling block and with hard work and enough support from school staff and his “foster” mom Heidi Volkwijn, the manager of Services to Youth and Adults, at Lofob, he managed to reach his goal.

Lofob’s partnership and intervention with Fairmount goes back to 2014 when a former matriculant, JodyOliver,was left blind following the removal of a tumour from her brain when she was in Grade 10. However, with sufficient resources and support from the school, the Western Cape Education Department and Lofob, Jody managed to stay at the school and complete matric in 2016.

Thandolakhe’s story was similar to Jody’s. However, he came from a school in Bloemfontein where he experienced symptoms of blindness in Grade 11, during the June examination in 2016.

Ms Volkwijn said Thandolakhe complained of headaches and blurred vision but pushed on as he was in the middle of exams. “While sitting through one of the papers, he experienced severe blurring as he struggled to read through the question paper and within minutes he was left in total darkness. This experience only became worse as he had to undergo several medical examinations and was later told that his vision loss was permanent and he would be blind for the rest of his life.”

Thandolakhe said: “This is more than achieving a qualification – to me, it is a triumph over the challenges that blindness presented me as my sight failed me in class three years ago.”

Ms Volkwijn said Thandolakhe was close to her heart and she took him under her wing. “He was like a child to me. At the tender age of 17, Thandolakhe was ready to give up on life and the dreams he once had of completing his education and pursuing a successful career. He was later brought to Cape Town by a family member to seek a second medical opinion and this brought hope that this would mean a chance of seeing again,” said Ms Volkwijn.

Ms Volkwijn said Thandolakhe received all the skills needed to live independently and at the end of the year, he faced the all important question about the road he would take to complete his school career.

Ms Volkwijn recalled his background growing up without a mother. “At the age of 5 or 6 he lost his biological mother. There was this big gap, although his dad was there for him, the absence of a mother in his life was huge. Through his granny and his dad’s help to push him on he went through school. He didn’t have symptoms of blindness very long, within a week Thando got headaches. Everyone thought it was due to stress of exams. He said the first time he had blurry vision he thought it was because he was reading more than usual. However, his sight kept on being blurry. His dad took him to the hospital. A family member went to Bloemfontein and after speaking to doctors she wasn’t satisfied and she brought him to Groote Schuur Hospital to get a second opinion.”

She was taking him to eye clinics and then eventually they came up with the diagnosis that he had glaucoma (a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve). He had to have more than one surgery.

Every time Thandolakhe went through an operation he thought his eyesight would improve. His hopes were dashed and his eye-sight remained unchanged. The glaucoma was far gone and caused a lot of damage that couldn’t be reversed. The hospital referred him to Lofob.

Ms Volkwijn said: “He went through rigorous training for six months where he was taught skills such as how to work a computer, how to type and basic mobility skills and the basics of Braille as well as cooking. At the end of the year we enrolled him at Fairmount.”

Fairmount’s principal Terrence Klassen said: “The school has a very good relationship with Lofob and when Heidi recommended him we welcomed him. We had already experienced helping Jody. We contacted the WCED and they offered resources such as a tape recorder and a laptop. We offered extra classes and made special arrangements for the exam. Our teachers were willing to take up the challenge and they did a very good job.”

Ms Volkwijn said: “Lofob had constant communication with the school to see to his needs. His dream is to study law, but he unfortunately didn’t get a Bachelor’s pass. He will be rewriting physics to improve his mark to get into law school.”

Ms Volkwijn said Lofob will continue being of service to Thandolakhe and will soon be applying at various universities. “I said the only time I will say goodbye to him will be when he comes here with his degree and then I will rest my case with him.”