Against all odds

09 March 2018 | People

Leandrea Louw

Sheri Brynard, a motivational speaker and the only person in the world with Down’s syndrome who holds a teaching diploma, visited Swakopmund as part of the Stepping Stone Special Education School fundraising initiative.

Stepping Stone was established by Elmarie Mostert in Swakopmund in 2015. The school caters for children with autism although children with Down’s syndrome are also accommodated.

The school currently has 16 learners (ages 2 to 12), two of them have Down’s syndrome and the rest have autism.

Two teachers and four assistants are responsible for four classes divided into age groups, two to three, four to six, six to ten and a class for those who can already do some schoolwork.

“Support for autistic children in Namibia is quite poor. There’s a lack of decent schools for these learners, and there are also no registered specialists or institutions in Namibia that can properly diagnose autism. This leaves parents with no other option but to take their children to South Africa, which is very expensive. ”

She further explained that there are various levels of autism, which need specific types of support and stimulation.

Mostert explained that they invited Sheri to help with fundraising. “I started the school in my own backyard, with only five children. This number grew and had we had to move twice. Our plan is to expand. We purchased land in Ocean View to build a bigger school. We’re in the process of registering as a primary school and need approximately N$4 million to N$6 million to build the school."

In telling her story, Sheri conveys that although she has one extra chromosome she is no different than any other person.

“We should make the best of who were are, and not place ourselves in little boxes, or compare ourselves to others. Always try and stay positive and forget all about the hurt and disappointments of the past. Instead focus on the future.

“Many tried to console my mother with the fact that I won’t live long. This is a misconception and belongs in the past. Our life expectancy is now 60 or even 70 years. Life and death is not in our hands, but we do determine how we live our lives. Each and every one of us should try and make the best of every day. All people die, but not all people live full lives.

“At one stage I wanted to be like my sisters, and do the things they did. I can’t drive my own car, which makes me dependent on those around me. I gain weight very easily so I can’t eat what I want to. Mother told me one day that your happiness depends on the choices you make. You can be happy or unhappy, just as you choose to be. On that day I decided to accept me for who I am. ”

She further said that her parents did not focus on her shortcomings but on the things she could do. “My mother expects of me to do the best I can at all time and not to give up easily.

“We shouldn’t focus on what we are not and what we don’t have but we should work hard to make the best of our circumstances.”

Sheri was the first person with Down’s syndrome to acquire a secondary school national diploma and was also the first to be accepted in a national technical college in South Africa.

“I was treated the same as all the other students, and with the grace of God and hard work I passed my N6 diploma. It wasn’t always easy. I failed many of my subjects, but I never gave up. I tried harder. I knew I had to study harder than the rest but I never felt pity for myself.”

She is currently an assistant teacher at a pre-primary school for learners with special needs. Aside from this, Sheri received numerous awards. She received the Presidential Award which is given to someone who has made a contribution to the lives of mentally handicapped people in South Africa. This was the first time ever that the award was received by a person with a disability.

She also received the World Down Syndrome Day Award for her incredible efforts to change the lives and perceptions of people with Down syndrome internationally and became the first ever person with a disability to walk away with the Shoprite Checkers Woman of the Year category winner of the “Young Movers” award.

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