Phumeza: Caring for Children with Special Abilities

Jan 1, 2023

Phumeza Booi, the founder of Hlumelo Educare and Aftercare Centre in New Crossroads, runs a preschool for children with disabilities, mainly autism. She opened the preschool in 2017 after struggling to find a suitable one for her autistic son.

“He would change preschools up to six times in one year. I would explain his condition, but when I return to fetch him in the afternoon, I would be refunded and told that he is unwelcome because of his behaviour,” she says.

Phumeza had to quit her job to take care of her son and eventually decided to study Early Childhood Development (ECD) and open a preschool for autistic children. Over time, her preschool became popular in the community, and she began taking in children with no disabilities as well. Phumeza believes that this inclusive environment benefits both groups of children, teaching them from a young age that people are not the same.

Currently, Phumeza has 62 children in her preschool, four of whom are autistic and one who is wheelchair-bound. Children with autism are often on waiting lists, which delays their education. Phumeza knows the requirements for admission and ensures that all children are fully potty trained and able to sit down and concentrate in class before they start.

“The preschool has grown a lot,  especially last year when Ikamva Labantu introduced us to Shonaquip, an organisation for children with disabilities. Through their training, we were able to learn more about disabilities and decided to make the preschool more inclusive and take in children with any disabilities.”

Her goal is to eventually have a centre where these children can learn skills from 18 years old and have opportunities to make a living.

Phumeza continued, “We are not only running a preschool, but we also have an afterschool, parenting, soccer programmes as well as a soup kitchen because of the support received from Ikamva Labantu. Our programmes depend on and appreciate Ikamva’s support.”

She believes that without this organisation’s help, they couldn’t offer these programmes. Phumeza and her two teachers graduated from Ikamva Labantu’s Early Childhood Development Practitioner’s training last year.

Phumeza is proud of the work they have done in eradicating poverty in her community and reducing the level of drug use by keeping children safe and busy. However, she acknowledges that their work can be challenging and could benefit from stress management training. She says, “We are proud to have received all the training that enables us to care for the children.”