Volunteer O&M in South Africa
What is O&M
“Orientation and Mobility” is the teaching of independent travel skills to those who are blind or visually impaired. I have been teaching O&M for nearly 30 years now, most of that time spent with children. As a teacher, there is nothing better than watching your students, regardless of their age, move about their world with confidence using the skills you have taught them.
The International Mobility Conference brings together O&M Specialists from all over the world to share knowledge and learn from each other as we strive to increase the independence of those we teach. At the last IMC an instructor asked for volunteers to help her teach those in need at the Sibonile School for the Visually Impaired, outside Johannesburg, South Africa. This was a perfect opportunity for me!
Imagine that your house had a special door which only allows one person to use it at a time and you need a key to get either in or out. There is only one key and you have to share it with everyone else in your family. Perhaps, one day a week you could go out, see friends, go shopping whatever. The other days you would be trapped in your house, waiting for your turn to venture out into the world. The nearly 180 children at Sibonile are in the same situation. Their “key” is the long cane, The school currently has about 1 cane for every 6 students. Only once a week, does a child get to be independent.
The major part of my project is to provide the school with as many canes as I can so that each child will be independent every day. In addition, I will take parts and teach the school how to build their own canes. The picture below shows canes in various stages of construction:
The school is also short of adapted teaching materials. My colleagues in the community have donated a lot of teaching items for me to take – if I can get it there! Here are all the things I had to organize for shipping:
Here’s what they look like all boxed up and ready to go:
When I offered to volunteer teach at Sibonile I sent them my vitae. They have asked me to guest lecture in their Professional Preparation Program. I will be teaching the sessions on early childhood O&M. Although I am known in the U.S. (if you follow the field of O&M), this was an unexpected honor for me. Perhaps one of these individuals will go on to work at Sibonile full time.
What the funds are for:
Elastic and reflective tape – $350 ORDERED 5/15 THANKS TO EVERYONE SO FAR!!
New Cane tips – $600 ORDERED 6/2 THANKS SO MUCH
Shipping – $500 (a lto of items got shipped Free matter so overall shipping costs are down! (half shipped 6/25)
Flight – $2500 BOOKED 6/2 (that’s what credit cards are for!)
Board – $500
Extra funds will be used to purchase items the school might need that have not been donated.
South African Guide Dog Association for the Blind is letting me use one of their self-catering apartments while I am there so I do not need to cover room costs. One of their instructors will be taking me out to the school when I am not lecturing and we will provide O&M instruction together. There is also the possibility I may visit another school while I am there.
DONE – now through June 15: gather items, make canes, finalize curriculum (early donations will pay for this)
DONE – June 7 – finalize flight
June 15-July 1 – finish shipping anything that I cannot take on the place so it arrives when I do (Half Done)
July 1-6 – use any excess funds for purchase of needed items not in inventory
July 7 – depart for South Africa
July 10-22 – Lecture for the O&M Professional Preparation Program
July 25-August 11 – Volunteer teach at Sibonile (and visit other school if applicable)
August 15 – back home and at work
The Importance of Independence
Independence is empowerment. Everyone has a right to feel empowered. I am not going to “help” the blind children. I am going to TEACH them important life skills that every other person gets to have simply by being born. No one should be trapped in their house waiting for someone to let them out. Through your contributions in this project you will be teaching, too. Your support says that you also believe they have a right to independence and empowerment. That you see them as students just like every other student. That you want them to explore the world. That you want others to be able to teach this as well. Your support also means that I get to accomplish the main reason I become an O&M specialist – to teach sighted peopel that blind people were just like everyone else if we only gave them the same opportunities. Thanks for helping me accomplish this goal.
You can follow the progress of this project on my Facebook page The Intrepid Volunteer and learn about other projects I’m involved in. You can even send me suggestions if you think I could be helpful elsewhere!