Tshego Tlou, from Soweto, went blind in 2014 and called a radio station asking if there was an organization that can assist him. Someone referred him to an NGO in Cape Town, the League of the Friends of the Blind (LOFOB). Tlou decided to move to Cape Town so he could take part in the organisation’s rehabilitation and education programmes.
Fast-forward to 2023, Tlou is now an Orientation and Mobility practitioner at LOFOB. “I train other blind people how to walk around safely and efficiently. I also teach computer literacy and smartphone training,” says Tlou.
Western Cape Minister of Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, visited LOFOB, which is one of 62 Social Service Organisations supported by the provincial Department of Social Development.
The NGO, which turned 90 years old this year, provides extensive support services to people with visual impairments including counseling, rehabilitation, and education support programmes. It is currently supporting 19 matriculants across the province and 55 children through its inclusive education and pre-school programme.
Minister Fernandez spoke to several inspirational staff and students at LOFOB who shared their stories of hope.
Ruwayda Smith attended preschool at LOFOB, and now thanks to the NGO she is a skills developer who prepares other young people who are visually impaired or blind for the world of work. “I train clients independent skills, like personal care and braille. I also run the Readiness Information Programme, which prepares clients for employment or further studying. I believe through my experience I am able to help others,” says Smith.
There were also students who shared how LOFOB has changed their lives for the better, like Avumile Diba who suddenly fell sick one day a few years ago, ended up in a coma and when he awoke, he had lost his sight. While in hospital, members from LOFOB visited him to tell them about the programmes available. He said, “I’m not giving up on life, the training I’m currently doing at LOFOB is giving me hope for the future, knowing that I might have a chance again to go and work.”
“These stories of hope and perseverance are reminders of the power of the human spirit. They are also reminders that more needs to be done to accelerate the economic empowerment of persons with disabilities because a job gives a person dignity. There are many individuals wishing to improve their lives through education and work. That is why we depend on the work of NGOs like LOFOB, so that those they have supported and helped can do the same for others, like Ruwayda and Tshego,” says Minister Fernandez.
LOFOB manager Benita Petersen advises people to have their eyes tested once a year as she says many cases of blindness are preventable if identified in time.