Small beginnings, big hearts

Education that is suitable for disabled children isn’t readily available to all. But the Chaeli Campaign is working to get the help to where it is needed most.

The campaign began on 6 August 2004, when Michaela Mycroft; her sister, Erin; and three friends, Tarryn, Justine and Chelsea Terry, decided to raise money for a motorised wheelchair for Chaeli, who has cerebral palsy. They sold cards and flower pots and in just seven weeks had collected more than R20 000. They were only six to 12 years old.

From that small beginning, came a larger movement, and the Chaeli Campaign was set up specifically to help youngsters with disabilities. “People with disabilities are still living in our own form of apartheid,” Mycroft, who is now 18, explains. “We are segregated from society not by choice but by a lack of accessibility and acceptance.”

Although there are a number of schools and institutions that cater for children with disabilities, because of the nature of the educational programmes, the cost of putting a child through school is high. For many families it is unaffordable.

The campaign has on board teachers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech therapists, along with project managers, a fundraiser, an events manager, an office and operational manager, a financial manager, and a chief executive manager.

PROGRAMMES AND INITIATIVES

chaeli-campaign-250Education that is suitable for disabled children isn’t readily available to all. But the Chaeli Campaign is working to get the help to where it is needed most (Image: Chaeli Campaign Facebook Page)It works with families who cannot afford to put their special needs children through school, or buy the necessary assistive devices, or pay for their child’s therapy. Lessons at the campaign’s offices in Plumstead, Cape Town, are structured around the specific needs of each child. There is also physio and occupational therapy.

The campaign runs numerous programmes aimed at enriching the lives of disabled children countrywide. It has created a variety of programmes, such as its Therapies Programme, to help underprivileged families raise children with special needs. Through this, regular therapy, speech and occupational therapy are offered so that the children can live in increased comfort and with improved mobility.

Another of its offerings is the Assistive Devices Programme through which children are given custom-made assistive devices that help improve their posture and maximise the effectiveness of the work done by the physiotherapists.

In the past year, the Chaeli Campaign has provided more than 20 assistive devices and has distributed 15 wheelchairs donated to it to disabled individuals who cannot afford them. Apart from this, the campaign also runs inclusive education programmes in underprivileged communities, as well as in mainstream schools. It has also tried to integrate the teaching practices that it uses at its offices into regular educational practices to support disabled children in mainstream schools.

Material has been created to supplement the life orientation syllabus already in use at mainstream schools so as to create more accepting and understanding environments for disabled people.

In 2009, the Chaeli Campaign launched its Social Entrepreneurs Programme as the Pay-It-Forward Ambassadors Programme. It focuses on growing relationships between the campaign and pupils who want to support and promote the campaign’s work in their schools.

Children are also able to learn about social entrepreneurship and to grow their own projects.

BEYOND THE BORDER

The campaign’s work is not confined to South Africa, but has reached beyond the country’s borders.

In 2005, Zimbabwean Sibongile Chanengeta, who had read an article about the Chaeli Campaign in a magazine, contacted the chief executive, Zelda Mycroft. Chanengeta and her husband, Never, had a daughter, Leona, who suffered from brittle bone disease. Guided and supported by the Cape Town group, the Chanengetas set up their own organisation in Mashonaland West called Hope in Motion.

Leona died in November 2007, but Hope in Motion continues its work.

The Chaeli Campaign isn’t only about helping those with disabilities; another goal is to change the way disabled people are perceived. Through advocacy, education and events it hopes to create a society where disabilities are not seen as reasons to alienate and ostracise individuals.

“My main drive is for differently abled people to be included and accepted the way we are, because we cannot change our disability but we can change the way people see our disability,” says the young woman after whom the campaign is named. “We can make disability just another trait instead of a reason for exclusion. We need to work together to make it happen.”