Tribute to Lofob stalwart

Barry and Heidi Volkwijn both passed away from Covid-19. Picture: Facebook

Heidi Volkwijn has been remembered as someone who did not allow being visually impaired hold her back, and worked tirelessly to uplift the blind and sight impaired.

Over the weekend Ms Volkwijn, 44, the youth and adult services manager at the League of the friends of the Blind (LOFOB) and her husband Barry, 46, died of Covid-19.

Lofob, in Grassy Park, provides training for and services to blind and visually impaired individuals from all over South Africa and certain parts of the African continent.

Philip Bam, former executive director of Lofob said the Retreat couple fell ill soon after each other. “Barry was first in ICU and Heidi in High Care. Heidi was transferred to ICU almost a week ago.”

Mr Bam said about a week or more ago Mr Volkwijn had tested positive and was hospitalised.

“A few days later Heidi and daughter Amy, 19, went for testing and (were) positive. Heidi was taken to hospital a few days later. Both (Barry and Heidi) were (admitted to Mediclinic) Constantiaberg. They were put on ventilators.”

Mr Volkwijn passed away in the early hours of Saturday June 20 and Ms Volkwijn, early on Saturday evening.

“Amy is doing well isolating at home,” said Mr Bam.

Ms Volkwijn had been very well-known for her involvement in
community development for the blind.

“I had no hesitation of getting her involved in the World Blind Union’s Women’s Forum. She also delivered a paper at the Geneva General Assembly of the WBU,” said Mr Bam.

He said Heidi had been referred to Lofob by anti-apartheid activist and cleric Dr Alan Boesak who had taken her under his wing when she lived in her mother’s house in Belhar.

“Doctors could not help restore her sight. She came to Lofob as a client. I saw the potential in her as an articulate capable all-together blind young lady who was not going to let her blindness hold her back,” said Mr Bam.

“After a while I offered her a post as skills developer where she trained other blind people. After a few
years she spoke to me about accepting another challenge. Her gift with the word made her a perfect choice as public relations officer for Lofob. She excelled in that position.

“She served with me on the National Council for the Blind and other blindness organisations.”

And, said Mr Bam: “She was a founder member of Blind Women in Action. She inspired many blind women throughout South Africa.

“I knew Barry as a son who grew up in front of me. Our two families are still close. So, it’s a real heartsore for me.

“The death of both these lovely people will leave a big hole in my heart. The blindness world will sorely miss her. Covid came and robbed this world of so much beauty and potential,” said Mr Bam.

Armand Bam, current executive director of Lofob, said when Ms Volkwijn came to Lofob as a client, she was 17 and would have marked 25 years of employment at the organisation this month.

He said she had always had a soft spot for the youth. “Her lived experience of being blind together with her ability to empathise allowed her to share her personal journey as motivation for newly blind clients.”

And, he added, she would be remembered as someone who “embodies everything we believe at Lofob.

She personifies the excellence we hope all our clients could achieve”.

Lofob’s residence has been operating with staff on-site since lockdown and they have included an online service in their programmes. “Heidi was instrumental in facilitating this and we will now have to re-evaluate this. Our staff and their well-being is our concern and so we will need to ensure all the appropriate mechanisms are in place as we work with vulnerable adults and children,” he said.

Ms Volkwijn had also worked with and mentored visually impaired pupils at Fairmount High.

The school’s principal, Terrence Klassen, said Ms Volkwijn had been the liaison between the school and Lofob, and was “always concerned and motivating those visually challenged learners which she mentored at our school”.Among those Ms Volkwijn had worked with at the school were Jody Oliver and Thandolaki Stuurman who have matriculated, and Tyreek Loft who is currently in Grade 12.

“Jody went on to study at False Bay College in Office Administration. She painstakingly followed their progress, attended PTA and subject meetings with teachers and liaised with the tutors to ensure their success,” said Mr Klassen.

“She also worked closely with our life orientation teacher to raise funds for Lofob via the Blind Buddy Day as well as co-ordinating the Grade 10 volunteer programme as they needed to do a community service project.”

“Her pleasant personality will be sorely missed by the Fairmount community,” said Mr Klassen.

Ridwan Samodien, principal of Kannemeyer Primary School remembered Ms Volkwijn as a “phenomenal woman”.

“Her interaction with the school revolved around fund-raising and competitions. She would visit our school and have motivational talks with our children and encouraged them to respect and take care of those who are blind,” he said.

“Our children keenly participated in the various competitions and assisted Lofob with the fund-raising as a result of her interactions with them.”

Mr Samodien said she was “a lady, elegant and professional to the core, who rose above her personal circumstances, and showed the world that you can conquer any challenge”.

He added: “Her barrier, (being) sight impaired, did not deter her. She lived a full life and this was embodied in how she interacted with people from all walks of life.

“We are deeply saddened by her sudden passing and wish to extend our sincerest condolences to her daughter Amy. May Barry and Heidi’s souls rest in peace.”