I remember the stress that came with the yearly class photos, from when I was a teacher myself. Teachers who run around to put all their students in the right place, the photographer who’s worried about the right light and composition and children who impatiently wait until they can go outside again.
It was like that with the Rainbow Angels recently, only busier. About 10 wheelchairs had to be rolled into the room and the children understood very little of the racket and the crazy photographer and his assistant. We tried everything in our might to get 16 children with multiple disabilities to all smile to our lens simultaneously.
However, Simphiwe and Melandre seemed to enjoy all the commotion. With the biggest smiles on their faces and armes around each other’s shoulders, these little boys were more than ready for the camera. This was so special to see. These boys have each faced considerable challenges, yet in that moment were smiling broadly at my lens. Two buddies who enjoyed being in the spotlight.
Whichever Victory4All building you enter, you’ll notice this more: children who, despite their limitations, backgrounds and poor circumstances, are exceptionally cheerful. I believe this is because they are safe, known and loved here. For example, a week later my wife and I went to visit Alunga, one of the Rainbow Angels, with Teacher Eva. We suddenly found ourselves in a tiny shack made of wooden plates with a cheerful, alert and bright girl in a wheelchair. She proudly showed us how she learned to do maths and solve puzzles, that she reads English and Afrikaans books and now participates in Teacher Wies’ needlework group. Despite her circumstances and challenges, she was so cheerful and grateful…
After such beautiful experiences, bad news hits harder. Maxine, who was a new classmate of Simphiwe, Melandre and Alunga at the Rainbow Angels since January, passed away in early May. She was a happy girl who made lots of noises. She died at the age of five during an epileptic attack. Two days later James, a student at Rainbow School who had been ill for a long time, passed away too. Two beautiful children who each faced some tough challenges during their short lives, but are now dancing around in heaven, unlimited.
If you’ve ever met James, Maxine or their classmates, you’ve seen that these kids really thrive in the safe Rainbow environment. This is what we wish for every child: a place where they can be themselves, can learn and grow in their own pace and be loved and accepted unconditionally. You can contribute towards this, for example by sponsoring a class at Rainbow School, or Maxine’s classmates at the Rainbow Angels, so that Victory4All can continue to take care of all those beautiful, precious, unique children.
So cheerful and grateful despite circumstances and challenges… That phrase sticks with me. Not walking around with your head in the sand, pretending to be happy, but experiencing an extraordinary peace and joy, because you know deep down that you are known and loved. To quote my father: “whether a child at Victory4All learns that 3×3=11 or not, as long as they know that they are a child of God”. Even though the former teacher in me would prefer them to know the correct answer to that math problem, I wholeheartedly agree.