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Cape Flats foundation provides a safe space for childre...

Maverick Citizen

WESTERN CAPE

Cape Flats foundation provides a safe space for children living with Down’s syndrome to discover their talents

Shumeez Scott, who was born with Down's syndrome. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

‘We, as parents, are so used to telling children with Down’s syndrome what they must do. My daughter has taught me that children with Down’s syndrome have a life and need to think for themselves.’

The Shumeez Scott Foundation in Lentegeur, Mitchells Plain, is a safe space for children with Down’s syndrome. Here, in the garage of the home of Bahia Janodien (47), the founder of the foundation, about 36 students are divided into two classes because of the limited space.

They are taught painting, arts and crafts and how to make serviette holders, bedding and coasters. The concentration and joy on their faces as they work speaks volumes.

World Down’s Syndrome Day is commemorated annually on 21 March, while in South Africa, October is marked as Down’s Syndrome Month. This year’s theme – Connect Through Kindness – is a reflection of what transpires at the Shumeez Scott Foundation.

The foundation is named after 22-year-old Shumeez Scott, who has Down’s syndrome, the daughter of Bahia Janodien. Started in 2018, the foundation has 36 students and there is a waiting list of 2o more for 2022. Janodien is running out of space and will be forced to turn them down unless she gets help.

Maverick Citizen visited the foundation on Wednesday. Before we got to speak with Janodien, she was distracted by 26-year-old Mishka Dreyer, who was restless and teary. 

Bahia Janodien operates the Shumeez Scott Foundation that empowers children with Down’s syndrome. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)
Shumeez Scott and Joy Alexander are proud of the artwork done by children with Down’s syndrome at the Shumeez Scott Foundation in Lentegeur, Mitchells Plain, in Cape Town.
(Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

“Mishka was one of my worst cases. She had cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome and could not even walk. Today, she makes her way on the ramp and draws with the children.

“She has been at the foundation for three years. Her mother, Leila, also attended classes but is now a facilitator. We don’t just empower the children, but also the parents… many parents are as isolated as their children.”

The idea for the foundation, she said, goes back to 2017 when daughter Shumeez participated in a modelling competition called Face of an Angel arranged by the group Ribbons for Roses. She won and was given a free trip to India in 2018. There, Janodien met special needs people and was surprised to see how advanced India was in treating them.

It was also the confidence her daughter displayed on the modelling ramp that prompted Janodien to host her first fashion show for children with Down’s syndrome in 2018 in the Athlone Civic Centre.

Three years later, the Shumeez Scott Foundation is a space where children with Down’s syndrome can discover their talents.

“It is a place where a mother can allow her Down’s syndrome child to be him or herself… We, as parents, are so used to telling children with Down’s syndrome what they must do. My daughter has taught me that children with Down’s syndrome have a life and need to think for themselves.”

She says the foundation helps students get the freedom to think and do things for themselves, because their parents will not always be there.

“No money can buy what I’ve achieved in my life today. Yes, I lost my job two years ago, but there are reasons why things have happened. When some of the students first came here, they couldn’t speak properly or even say a few words. But at the foundation they started talking, because they see the others are like them and they talk. Seeing one another encourages them.”

Children from Heideveld, Athlone, Bonteheuwel and Mitchells Plain attend classes at the foundation, and Janodien uses her own vehicle to transport them.

“Everything started in India in 2018. Because of what I saw there, the foundation was established. I want children with Down’s syndrome to become independent and sustain themselves.”

Art teacher Jennie November (in front) and Basheera Anthony (right) has been working with children for more than 38 years. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)
Not even a car driving through Magnolia Street, Lentegeur, in Mitchells Plain could suppress the spirit of Farieda Moses, Shumeez Scott, Althea Alexander and Joy Alexander during their Zumba dance moves. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

Art teacher Jennie November (72) is also at the foundation. She suffered a stroke after her husband died of Covid-19 in December 2020, and is confined to a wheelchair. She is an experienced art teacher and has been working with children for more than 38 years.

November says: “Craft for Down’s syndrome is very important. It stimulates them, develops them socially, emotionally… you can see how their emotions come out in their work.

“There are many times when I look at their stuff and I just cry, because it is so wonderful and miraculous… some of them come to the point where they can do it themselves.”

The greatest moment for Leila Dreyer, Mishka’s mother, is watching her child’s face glow when she is with her friends. She says she has no words to describe watching her daughter’s progress.

On Wednesday, Zumba instructor Fadeelah Hattas-Fataar had a lively session with 14 of the students in front of the foundation – there is not enough space to have the session inside. Hattas-Fataar started work with the foundation about four months ago.

“Let me tell you, I teach at Virgin Active but going to those classes and coming to this group of people, I get excited the night before knowing I’m coming here just to see the joy on their faces when they are busy. I wish this to grow bigger for them and have the entire group together,” she said.

Dancing in the street while cars slowly drive around them is a challenge. But the group is so used to it that their dancing includes creating a space for the cars to drive through.

The foundation receives a grant from the Department of Social Development, which is used for workshops for the 36 students, but the foundation wants to be able to accommodate the 20 children on their waiting list. The last thing Janodien wants to do is turn them away.

Janodien is hopeful that the City of Cape Town or the private sector might be able to come on board and help make this a reality. DM/MC

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