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Helping Bizweni’s angels

Lifestyle Section - Editors Letter


If you don’t feel loved anywhere else, you will find all the love you need right here. These were the words of principal Vicky Hinrichsen, as I considered the possibility of volunteering at Somerset West’s Bizweni Centre for Disabled Children. That was the first truth I learned about working with disabled children – one of many.

Being the new volunteer on the block at Bizweni is like being the new favourite toy at Christmas – everyone wants to love you, play with you and naturally, test the boundaries. They can’t get enough.

However, the most unexpected difference is that rather than becoming “old and boring”, lost in the depths of a toy box as time stretches on, the children’s love for Bizweni’s staff and volunteers is ever increasing.

What starts out as a relationship already full of laughter, fun and many, many cuddles, transforms into one with a solid foundation of unwavering trust. The love shared becomes close to unshakeable. Whether you like it or not, these children get under your skin in the best possible way.

I had never considered myself to be a person with any particular fondness for children. I’d had no experience with younger siblings or family members, but the truth is, I didn’t need it. The children at Bizweni could awaken the maternal instincts in a brick wall.

Connecting with these children is not something one needs to strive towards, it is as effortless and natural as breathing. And as for the most wilful and challenging children –  no, it’s not always smiles and smooth-sailing – they become your greatest triumphs.

My first exposure to such a challenge was on a Tuesday morning in the absence of Aunty Sienah, the classroom teacher. When I awoke that morning I had no idea that a young boy called Miguel would be experiencing his first day at Bizweni in Class Two, the room I had been assigned to. Nor did I realise that he would spend five hours in a state of hysteria, making frequent attempts to escape the apparent doom of our classroom.

This was the first day that I began to wonder if I’d chosen the right place to volunteer my time. However, the overwhelming joy of watching Miguel blossom into one of Bizweni’s most cheerful and confident pupils within two short weeks, assured me that I had.

Not only has Miguel bonded with many of our pupils, he has taken on the challenges of walking, running and even climbing stairs with unrestrainable gusto.

It seems as though he is being plucked off the ground from his latest disagreement with gravity at ten minute intervals, yet Miguel soldiers on each day with complete trust that when he falls, there will always be a teacher to help him up and dust him off.

It is a special and rare type of person who dedicates their life to educating and loving children. Two or three days a week was enough to both tire me and leave me with a happy sense of fulfilment. I cannot imagine the energy required to take on the daily challenges of working with Bizweni’s angels five days a week and those who meet this task with a huge, loving smile ought to be commended.

It is all too easy to become frustrated with a child with whom you struggle to communicate. It is the rare few who realise that such communication barriers can only be overcome through patient understanding and embracing each child’s unique characteristics.

What is simple for one child may be complex for another. The “uncle” or “aunty” who spends hours with one child until they can hold a crayon to colour a page, quietly empowers that child and seeks no other reward than the satisfaction of knowing they have helped their Bizweni angel in some small way.

To the “aunties” and “uncles” of Bizweni who never tire of such challenges, you have my full respect and admiration. Truthfully, you are one of a kind.

l  Rebecca is the granddaughter of Somerset West resident and Rotarian, John Whittal – she was visiting from Australia, and spent time volunteering at the Bizweni centre. She has now returned, to start her studies at the University of Melbourne.

l There are no care facilities for mentally or physically disabled children in the 12to 18 year age group in  the Helderberg/Grabouw area. The aim is to add a Skills Development Centre onto the existing Bizweni Centre to cater for this dire need. So far R700 000 of the R1.9 million has been raised, and all donations are most welcome. Contact Peter Cohen, president: Rotary Club of Helderberg, at 083 670 2368 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Written by Rebecca Whitall You are reading Helping Bizweni’s angels articles

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