UKZN Fights Mental Illness Stigma
To commemorate Mental Illness Awareness Day, UKZN fourth-year Nursing students held a Stigma Awareness Day at the Oakland Special School and Care Centre for People with Disabilities.
The day was aimed at educating the community about the stigma attached to intellectual disabilities with students opening a classroom where they helped to paint and hand out food parcels to children.
The students decided to help when they saw the poor condition of the Oakland Special School while visiting to do a community needs assessment.
Student Ms Nqobile Xolo said: ‘The School is in dire need. It has no teaching aids or any form of material to show that it is a place of learning. When we visited, there were no windows and the classroom was dull. We saw a need to intervene by painting the classroom and decorating it with tactile stimulations on the walls.’
The aim was to make the school more attractive to the children. ‘As students we could not find funding or sponsors to assist in renovating but the KwaZulu-Natal Refugee Council provided us with food parcels. The parcels were welcomed especially since most of the children come from poor families.’
The students also encouraged the community to accept and support mentally challenged children.
Xolo said the intervention by the students was aimed at encouraging parents to be active participants in their children’s growth.
‘Parents need to be more supportive. They should assist the teachers in their efforts to help grow and develop the minds of the children… it is important to educate people to refrain from using terms such as mental illness and to rather use intellectual disability.’
The School started in 2008 and was registered as a non-profit organisation. One of its founders, Ms Colleen Ngubane, recalled how it all started:
‘I was watching the news on TV when a story of a mentally ill child appeared. The child had been chained to a tree. In the same month there was another story about a child who had been locked up in his room and chained to his bed.’
Ngubane decided to open a school for children with mental retardation and physical disabilities.
‘I opened the centre with five colleagues. It was not easy - we only had passion and love. We rely on the community for assistance and support.’
Ngubane said volunteers assisted occasionally with the 46 children aged from four to 18. The care centre has three adults.
‘We as the community are very happy about the support the students have shown,’ said Ngubane.
Mr Baruti Amisi of the Refugee Council encouraged the students and the community to continue assisting the School in any way.
‘I believe this is in line with the spirit of Ubuntu. We have a moral obligation to the School, Teachers and these children.’
Ms Zodwa Magcaba, the mother of a 13-year-old mentally ill child, said: ‘We are so happy about what the students have done. We hope the government will also assist, even if it’s just a food scheme, as it has done at other schools.’
Another mother, Ms Noluthando Thalaza, said she relocated to the area three years ago after she found out about the School. ‘We love Miss Ngubane and appreciate the care she shows for our children,’ said Thalaza.
- Nombuso Dlamini