How an organisation is helping immigrant children with disabilities

| Tariro Washinyira
Eunice Runeni (left) and Tendai Bhiza (right) with donated clothes for the PASSOP Disabled Children Support Group. Photo courtesy of Eunice Runeni.

It is not easy to raise a child with disabilities if you are a single mother and a foreign national living in a township in South Africa. Fortunately, there is the PASSOP Disabled Children Support Group.

Established in 2012 to bring mothers with disabled children together to encourage and support one another, the group assists children with issues like documentation, education and health, and conducts educational workshops. The support group currently has 18 South African and 52 children of foreign nationals.

Research done before its establishment showed that most disabled children’s mothers were single.

Eunice Runeni is the vice chairperson of Disabled Children’s Action Group and the project coordinator at PASSOP. She is also the former chairperson of the Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association.

Her son, Tafadzwa Tininga, who is now 15, developed cerebral palsy with microcephaly at age three. He is at Bel Porto school in phase two (equivalent to grade six or seven). Runeni therefore has experience of the situation facing the women in the support group.

She says mothers are desperate to work and provide for their families, but it is challenging as caring for their children is a fulltime job. As they cannot afford paying for schools as well as aftercare, they end up staying at home, and losing out on income. Most of the mothers come from townships where living conditions are not ideal for children with disabilities.

Children without asylum documents cannot get a government disability grant and struggle to access organisations who work with disabled children. Transport to school is also more expensive as the mother must accompany the child and pay for the wheelchair too.

“I work half day at PASSOP and should be home by 1:30pm in time for the school bus,” says Runeni. “If I miss the bus, the driver returns to school with the child and it will then cost me to go back to the school and fetch him. Tafadzwa, who starts school at 8am, is picked at 6:50am and is the first one to be dropped. The bus waits less than five minutes. It’s challenging for me because I use public transport.”

Raising a child with a disability is expensive. It costs R35 per visit for physio, occupational and speech therapy; a doctor’s assessment is R70 per visit; and then there is the transport cost. It is rare to be given one date on which to do all the different therapies.

Runeni is not eligible for a South African disability grant. She came from Zimbabwe in 2009. That year Tafadzwa had surgery at Groote Schuur hospital to straighten his legs. In 2010 he had surgery on his hands and spinal cord, and in 2011, he had further surgery. Runeni still owes the hospital R7,000 for the operations.

She is relieved that the child is now receiving therapy at school. The fee is R4,000 a year and includes therapy.

The PASSOP project hopes to raise funds to establish an aftercare centre for the children and create employment for mothers. The mothers would be happy to do cookery, beading, sewing and farming if they had a place to leave their children during the day.

Runeni said raising funds for the project has always been difficult. She goes door to door to people’s houses, to churches and NGOs asking for donations. Currently, she is looking for Christmas donations for the children.

She says, “I encourage my child to do what he can do best. He has a problem speaking, but I am encouraging him to do well in sign language.”

The support group is struggling financially, but Runeni is grateful for the 16 wheelchairs, food hampers and clothes donated by organisations and individuals. This year the group also received a once off bursary for five children.

If you wish to make a donation please call the PASSOP office on 021 762 0322 or email office [at]

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