Many visually impaired children do not have access to specialised health care in South Africa, especially in disadvantaged areas. Nor do children with autism. It is with this in mind that Professor Lorna Jacklin helped to establish the Children’s Disability Centre in 1983. Professor Jacklin was awarded the 2009 Inyathelo Award for Philanthropy in Health.
“I helped treat a blind child over 26 years ago and it struck me that there was no facility to deal with these children as they grow,” says Jacklin. “We also realised that we needed to work with the child from diagnosis onwards and to assist their parents and caregivers from when they are very young until their school years.” Ever the imaginative philanthropist, Jacklin adds that when she started seeing more and more children diagnosed with autism at the centre and approached the CDC to include these children in the programme.
“The incidence of autism has increased ten-fold over the last ten years in South Africa,” says Jacklin. “A centre such as the CDC is not a ‘nice to have’. It is a necessity.”
The Children’s Disability Centre is not just the only place catering for needs of the blind, visually impaired and autistic children in their pre and foundation phase of education in Johannesburg and surrounding areas, it is the only centre in South Africa catering to these special needs children from diagnosis in respect of medical care to early intervention and education in their formative years.
It is also only one of three centres in the country offering diagnostic and consultative services to visually impaired and autistic children and their families.
Helping special needs children was only the starting point, however, as Jacklin launched The Teddy Bear Clinic in 1986. This has been instrumental in assisting children who have been abused as well as providing assistance and counselling to their families. The clinic offers services such as court preparation, counselling, medical examinations and play therapy.
But, says Jacklin, there is an enormous need for services such as the CDC and The Teddy Bear Clinic, and only a limited number of doctors and specialists are trained to meet these needs.
Posts for training are essential. The government offers very little support. It has taken five years, for example, for the government to agree to a fellowship in the hospital.
“In order to train doctors, we need funding and posts,” says Jacklin. “I am concerned about what will happen when doctors like me retire. Will there be anyone to take over and continue what we started?”
Running a centre such as the CDC is also a costly business. At least R2-million is needed by the centre to come out even per month. Many of the learners are unable to pay for the essential services offered and for every child that cannot pay a shortfall of more than R100 per day is experienced.
Says Jacklin, “The CDC has been very lucky in that we have a number of very dedicated doctors and therapists who donate their time. Without that kind of assistance, we would not be able to offer these medical and educational services.” According to Jacklin, there is a gratifying amount of volunteerism within the medical fraternity, without which most organisations relying on such services would not be able to function.
One of Jacklin’s strengths, according to her peers, is that of fundraising. When opening the CDC to young learners with autism in 2003, she was instrumental in raising funds enabling the centre to survive during the early stages. She has inspired teams of professionals to donate their time to the Assessment Clinic, and has personally donated her own money, including those received through awards she’s won such as the 2008 Shoprite Checkers/SABC 2 Woman of the Year Award in the category of health to the CDC.
“As an individual you can make a difference to someone’s life,” says Jacklin. “I’m not special; there are many others like me. The doctors in the clinic, who never earn a cent from their work, need recognition too. I’ve been very lucky to work with committed people who work out of a love for what they do.”
Jacklin adds that it would make a huge difference to the sustainability of such organisations if more people supported fundraising events, gave donations, no matter how small and volunteered their time.