Empowering people with disabilities is about so much more than just providing access to learning and working opportunities – it’s also about boosting their self-esteem.
So says Peculia Dibakoane, a 21-year-old paraplegic student who is determined to forge her own path in life after enrolling in Good Work Foundation’s (GWF’s) Bridging Year Academy in Hazyview, Mpumalanga.
This comes as a timely message during National Disability Rights Awareness Month (until 3 December), which offers us a chance to reflect and take action to ensure that people with disabilities are able to enjoy the rights guaranteed to them in the Constitution. This is especially important in rural areas, where access to economic and study opportunities is severely limited for disabled people in particular, and the youth unemployment rate is sky-high.
This softly spoken but determined young woman says she enrolled in the education non-profit’s one-year bridging programme to brush up on her computer literacy skills and thereby give herself a better chance of being accepted into university.
She has always dreamed of becoming a psychologist, and hopes to study psychology at the University of the Free State – having experienced first-hand how a sympathetic ear and constructive, life-affirming advice can add value to a person’s life.
“Psychologists help people get over their anxieties in their lives and allow them to regain their self-esteem, and that’s how I’d like to help people,” she says. “Being at GWF around other people on campus has helped me with my own self-confidence. I was shy being around others, but now I’ve come out of my comfort zone. My parents are happy because they want me to get out of my shell and explore more.”
Dibakoane matriculated in 2021 and took a gap year in 2022 before being referred to the Bridging Year Academy by her sister, who had herself been a student there. She has relocated from her home village of Mkhuhlu, which is located about 20km away and adjoins the Kruger National Park, to a flat located closer to the Hazyview campus for ease of access.
“I wanted to keep myself busy with something and gain a better knowledge of computers, because I didn’t know how to use them,” she says. “This programme offers us a chance for us to learn things we don’t understand. Here, they help you recognise what job you would be good at, and they don’t pressurise us.”
Dibakoane is grateful for the “welcoming and supportive” environment on campus, and the willingness of staff and fellow students to help her get around. She wishes she could afford an electric wheelchair to enhance her mobility and independence even further.
Hazyview Digital Learning Campus manager Fumani Mathumbu says that inclusivity lies at the heart of GWF’s mission. “We believe that everyone, regardless of their abilities, should have the opportunity to access quality education. Our Bridging Year Academy campus at Hazyview is committed to creating an environment that is not only welcoming but also supportive of individuals with disabilities. Education is a universal right, and we strive to make it a reality for everyone.”
As for Dibakoane, she draws constant inspiration from her mother. Someone else she holds in high esteem is decorated South African actress Thuso Mbedu, known for her breakthrough performances in The Underground Railroad and The Woman King. “She was able to pursue her dream of a career in acting and has now gone on to achieve international success, which I admire,” she says.
What advice would Dibakoane give to other young people like herself? “I would advise them to never let their disability define them, but to pursue whatever they really want to do in life.”
- Good Work Foundation (GWF) is an education non-profit that runs six digital learning campuses in rural Mpumalanga and the Free State. In addition to a Bridging Year Academy on each campus to help school-leavers and young adults make the transition into work or further studies, it operates an Open Learning Academy for primary schoolchildren, to boost their English literacy and numeracy skills through wonder-filled digital-led and creativity-enhanced learning. Furthermore, GWF runs three career-focused adult learning academies on its Hazyview campus, tapping into the need for tourism, education and contact-centre employees in the sub-region.