Alive with magic

Cerebral Palsy has not stymied Jessica Sander’s dream to lead a normal, active life. She’s now a pupil at a mainstream school and loving it, despite the odd ‘obstacle’.

Jessica Sander and her mom, Debbie Cameron are at Crystal Ridge Riding School in Benoni, Gauteng. The youngster has just finished having a lesson with Melise Etheridge.

Jessica strolls over and introduces herself. She’s a bright and bubbly 13 year old and starts chatting right away. “I have been riding since the age of two and I have been thinking about training horses as a career, eventually. If not, I might go into motivational speaking.” She says.

The idea to be a motivational speaker comes from the fundraising projects that Mom Debbie’s friends organise for Jessica’s treatment in the US. “Jessica goes for biofeedback treatment in Miami, to build up her muscles. She should go every six months. However, she is only able to go when the funds are available. Jessica also has intensive physiotherapy three times a week, and then once a week in a six-weeks-on and six-weeks-off period.”

And here Jessica interjects passionately, “The treatment is very helpful because I know that I have to work hard to get where I want to be, but I will not stop. I want to achieve the goals I set for myself even if it takes a thousand years.

“My mom has been so determined. She did not believe the doctors; instead she has paid for treatments to help me.”

Jessica is a pupil at Eden College, a mainstream school. She moved to the school this year. “I love it,” she says enthusiastically. “Eden College is much better for me than my previous school. I am learning so much more.”

Debbie explains that the school, which is a mainstream school, has a classroom downstairs where Jessica has all her lessons. “The children and the teachers come to her. The school also has a bathroom downstairs with bars for her. They have been wonderful in accommodating her.”

There are only eight children in Jessica’s class. It is part of the school’s Small Class Inclusion Programme (SCIP) for children with special needs who have the potential to integrate on a mainstream campus. “It’s perfect for Jessica as I don’t think she would have coped with the pressure of a mainstream class because of the other pressures she has to face daily.”

To get Jessica into Eden College, Debbie says she phoned the principal two years ago. “I began asking when she was in grade 4. There are just no suitable schools for Jessica near where we live.”

Jessica chips in, “Other people told my mom I would have to do home schooling, but I did not want to do that.”

Says Debbie: “We are very happy with the school, the teachers and the parents at Eden College. The children have also been wonderful. We hope that Jessica will be able to attend high school there.”Jessica agrees, adding, “I know that I am not able to do certain things, and I admit there are times when I get frustrated, but at Eden College the children all help me.”

It brings her to one of her pet subjects and she is very articulate about it. “I am especially frustrated when children are not polite to me. They will ask what is wrong with me – but rudely. There is not enough education about children who are disabled so that other children can understand, and be kinder.

“I would like to teach people what it is like to be disabled. I would like able-bodied people to understand and appreciate what it is to be able to run, walk, tie your own shoe laces and do your own hair.”

“People in this country are not aware of what constitutes the lives of disabled people like me. They do not take enough notice of disabled people, and they should.”

She says South Africa is a difficult country for a person with disabilities. “The US is much better. They have buses that are geared for people with disabilities. In South Africa, transport for people with disabilities does not exist. I would like a chance to meet Thabo Mbeki and talk to him about some of my frustrations as a person with disabilities. I would not need very long, just five minutes of his time.”

Adding to her frustration is the fact that Jessica’s class is going on a school tour to Mpumalanga “I cannot go as the ground is too rocky and I might not manage by myself. This really upsets me, as I really want to go.”

Listening to Jessica, you know that she will solve this problem – maybe not now, but eventually. You also believe she will one day meet Thabo Mbeki and be a great ambassador for children with disabilities.

She loves to read books about magical folk like Harry Potter. But Potter has nothing on her. She IS magic.

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