Many years ago, when I was teaching at Dominican Grimley School, Sister Paul, the tiny Irish nun who mentored me, asked me to do the impossible.
“Please make sure that Tholi gets a cochlear implant!”
She flew off to Ireland, secure in the knowledge that I would fulfill her wishes. I made my way to the classroom and began the day’s lessons. I watched Tholi working away at her language exercise and jumping up when she’d understood the riddle. She threw her arms around me and her giggles brought her classmates to my side as well. Three of them were lucky enough to have cochlear implants already. I had noticed the difference it made to their lives and longed to offer Tholi the same opportunity. But how?
I knew nothing about the operation or how much it would cost, no idea about fund raising, or where to even begin. It was a task I wasn’t up to. But Sister Paul’s voice haunted me when I put my head on my pillow every night. There had to be a way for me to make this happen.
“Just start,” was the light bulb moment in the shower. So I did.
I researched cochlear operations. They cost more money than I’d earned in a decade! It would be easier to throw in the towel now. But I had no option. I visited schools and gave talks on the benefits of cochlear implants, wrote articles for local newspapers, approached bigger papers, spread the word wherever I could. My first R500.00 came from a pupil at Springfield Convent, who had responded to my talk. Then a second donation came in and a third. My little pile was adding up, but it was still a tiny drop in the ocean. It was to be a long road ahead.
My big breakthrough came, when Frank Joubert Art Centre, where Tholi was a star pupil, came on board. With their help, I was able to cast my net further afield, and soon the trickle of support was becoming a fountain. I was inspired. But still, I did not have nearly enough and wasn’t sure what to do next. One evening, I got a surprise phone call. An unfamiliar voice, informed me that the surgeon responsible for cochlear implants at Tygerberg hospital, had offered his services pro bono. He’d read one of my articles about Tholi and decided to come on board.
“How much have you got so far?”
“Not nearly enough,” I mumbled.
“The surgeon is happy to use whatever you have. We’ll make a plan for paying back the rest, after the operation.”
I put the phone down in a daze. I had suspected divine intervention in my life before this, but now I was sure of it. Tholi was to get her implant before the year was over. I had started the ball rolling and the kindest people in Cape Town, had come on board. Tygerberg gave Tholi every opportunity to work with their therapists, DGS and Sister Paul worked tirelessly with her, to make sure her speech improved rapidly, I watched her classmates rallying round and encouraging her to blossom in class. Tholi developed a brand new voice and personality to match. She was no longer in a completely silent world. Her life had opened up and a new path was not only possible but essential, for her growth. A miracle had taken place!
Years have raced past and Tholi and her classmates are now successful adults, in various professions. I have retired from teaching and am pursuing one of my lifelong passions. My own life has taken me down fascinating paths and I have a long list of things still to do. But my values have stayed in place and one of them is to give back to my community. Every year I focus on one cause I’d like to support. This year, it is the Tygerberg CIU. My small contribution will be a tenth of the year’s earnings from Under The AFrican Sun. It may not amount to a fortune, but it will come from my heart.
Miracles happen all around us, every single day. We are often so caught up in our daily struggles, that we fail to notice them. Sometimes, we only realise their magnitude, when we look back. Pause today and think of the miracles you’ve co-created. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ve actually contributed, without even realizing it.
I’ll leave you with a thought, snatched from Dr Frans Kromhout’s wall in his Sea Point practice.
“I no longer believe in miracles, I rely on them!”