Biography of Founder Salomina Louisa Snyman (aka Salomien)
Here is a short history of my involvement as founder and now C.E.O. of Spitskop Special Needs School.
In December 2004 we moved from Pretoria to Thabazimbi due to the fact that my husband, a land surveyor from profession mostly worked in mining industries in and around Thabazimbi. We have two daughters, at the time 6 and 7 years old, a boy 2 years old and a baby boy of 7 months.
In 2007 both my sons were diagnosed with autism. The psychiatrist was hopefully optimistic with the right medicine, therapy programs and a school, that specialize in developmental disorders, this was not a death sentence. My enthusiasm to tackle this problem was short lived. There was no special facility, daycare or schools for children with developmental disorders in the whole Waterberg district. No other professional support in the form of speech and occupational therapists practiced in Thabazimbi. We do have a pharmacy and with no other resources available the problem was far from resolved. From the Government’s side, there was also no support system in place for parents with children with developmental disorders. Ironically, they referred me to Unica School in Pretoria. This facility specialized in Autism and has boarding facilities available. I could not even bear the thought that these uniquely challenged boys must live away from their family. Luckily the boarding school had a four year waiting list.
I was determined to find a solution for this problem and turned to all the different role players in the Private and Government’s sector for help. Two and a half years later I managed to get a formal meeting hosted by Autism South Africa, held in Thabazimbi Primary School’s hall in October 2010, concerning the situation of children with developmental disorders.
From the Government’s side the Department of Health, Social Development and Education attended. Representatives from all the local schools and local Healthcare workers from the Government also attended. Also there were two rows of desperate parents.
ASA opened the meeting with a well prepared information session, they emphasized that children with pervasive developmental disorders does not always have a physical recognizable defect. Therefore these children get labeled as uncontrollable troublemakers and because of their lack of social and communication skills, they suffer enormously in the main stream sector. In some cases they get bullied, teased and socially abused. These children, because of their own lack of ability to adapt and communicate, get rejected and sometimes even totally ignored in the class situation. ASA left no stone unturned to emphasize the importance of special facilities, where these children can be stimulated and their different needs can be accommodated to help them develop to the best of their abilities.
The government acknowledged the need for a special needs school and stimulation Centre but no funds were available. They advised the parents to use their own initiative to start any form of care facility with a promise of financial support. The suggestion was made that the initiative should come from within the community, preferably a parent, to make provision for these uniquely challenged children. A group of parents and a few Government officials asked me if I would be the coordinator of such an incentive. A few months down the line I realized that help from outside sources would be limited at best and that the whole project would res on my shoulders. I started attending workshops, visited special need schools mostly in the Gauteng area. I contacted the Association for Autism and the support from their side was overwhelming. They invested their time in helping me to combine business plans, compiled letters and emotionally supported me through some very challenging times. In a joint venture between me and the Department of Education a needs analysis at the local schools was done, the response was again overwhelming.
I hired an Occupational Therapist from Pretoria to help me evaluate the individuals that was referred to me by the local schools as possible candidates for a Special Needs School. It was important for me that this planned Special Needs Facility reached its goals and that no child ended up in our school if there were no real grounds for admitting them. With so little knowledge of pervasive developmental disorders, it was important for me to do the necessary sifting. After evaluations, the list shortened to a possible 80 candidates that could be enrolled into Spitskop Special Needs School.
After another year we had a registered non-profit organization, interim business plan and a formidable board of directors but no premises to start and no financial backing of any kind. I sent emails to each and every organization but nobody were prepared to invest in a dream. In December 2012 I received my biggest Christmas present ever. An anonymous kind hearted lady bought a small holding 4km outside Thabazimbi which effectively set everything in motion. The next two months was a very busy time for me. I put skeleton staff together, placed an advert in the local newspaper and renovated the outside buildings to be utilized as classrooms. All this was made possible by the generous donation of a German businessman Egon Mauss.
The week before the school opened the teachers (staff members) were sent on a fishbowl course held by S.A autism and the Monday 11 February 2013 Spitskop Special Needs School opened its doors. That Monday 12 children enrolled. We had a professional team comprising of an occupational therapist and a team of AFA members there to support us in evaluating the children and set up the class structures. The AFA team also provided parent support by giving them more information about the school as well as their children’s behavioral indifferences. Due to the high demand the school had enrolled 33 learners after the first initial 6 months and placed a huge financial burden on the infrastructure and urgent funds were required to accommodate the additional learners.
Today almost 4 years later 42 children benefit from the school.
It wasn’t always easy as it had an enormous influence on my family, because I had to go away for weeks at a time to do the necessary research. As I was my two son’s primary care giver, they suffered emotionally, which led to meltdowns and tantrums. This put a strain on the rest of my family. Furthermore all the travelling and research was financed by the Snyman household, which also put a strain of another kind on our family life. After all the tears, sweat and effort I am proud of what I have accomplished and amazed the difference the school has made in the lives of the children.
So many things, beyond my control, miraculously fell into place. I truly believe that this school is blessed by God and that I was only the instrument used by this higher power to initiate and erect this facility.
For me as founder and now C.E.O of Spitskop Special Need School the changes and enormous development during the last 3 years was a humbling experience.
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