Masiphumelele mother’s struggle to find school for deaf son

Her story highlights the problems faced by children with disabilities and their parents

Photo of a mother and son

Vuyokazi Tom and her son, Alulutho. Photo: Thembela Ntongana

By Thembela Ntongana

3 November 2016

Vuyokazi Tom has been struggling to find a school that can provide for her child who is partially deaf.

“I will never let my son stay at home [and not go to school] because he has a hearing problem. I want him to get an education and make something of himself. He must have the same opportunities as his brothers and other children. So if I have to wake up early every morning, I will do so,” she says.

Tom says it took her five years to convince people that her son had a hearing problem. She stays in Masiphumelele, and she says the community clinic kept telling her there was nothing wrong with her boy. Last year, Tom finally managed to get the referral letter she says she’d been asking for to take her son to Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

In May last year, her son, Alulutho Tom, ten years old and now in grade 5, had an operation. In June he was given hearing aids.

Before the operation she quit her previous job to look after him. “My son was being teased at school because he couldn’t speak properly and because of his hearing,” she says.

She took him out of school for a few months, but then she realised she was keeping him behind. “I took him back even though it was difficult for me,” said Tom.

After he received the hearing aids, things improved, but she still wanted a school that would be able to accommodate his impaired hearing. She knew of a school in Wittebome, 21km from Masiphumelele. But the school said it only took children that did not speak. As Alulutho was partially deaf and could speak, he did not qualify.

“Someone told me of another school in Hout Bay. I went there, and the first time they told me it would be difficult for him to learn English because he was coming from a school that had Xhosa as first language,” says Tom.

Then earlier this year, she was told that her son could not return to Ukhanyo Primary School as he was not coping.

When she tried the Hout Bay school again, she was told the school could only accept children referred there by the Department of Education.

In March, she managed to find a school in Observatory, 28km from their home.

Tom is a domestic worker and a single mother with three children. She wakes up at 4:30am. She catches the 6:30am train to Observatory to drop Alulutho at school. He has never traveled alone to school, because she worries for his safety. Tom has to be at work in Fish Hoek by 8am.

When the trains run late, she sometimes gets to work at noon. She says she is fortunate that her employers understand her problem and are supportive.

“With the way trains are, what if they announce something and he does not hear it and gets into the wrong train?” she asks. In the afternoon, Alulutho can catch the train with other children and he knows to look out for his station to get off.

The school in Hout Bay is a boarding school and she wouldn’t have to worry about him travelling with public transport. If however he gets into the school but does not get accommodation, he will have to use three forms of transport to get to school even though it is closer to Masiphumelele.

Provincial education department spokesperson Jessica Shelver said the department has requested that the principal of Dominican School in Hout Bay contact Tom to make arrangements for 2017. “The child will be enrolled at Dominican School Hout Bay, which is closer to their home,” said Shelver.