Organisational Background….Part 1 of the story!
We thank Caroline Taylor, one of IESA’s founding members for sketching the beginning for us:
IEWC (now IESA) originally started as the WC Forum for Inclusive Education – described as “an alliance of NGOs and individuals who are involved in education and /or disability issues.” This group shared “an interest in exploring and promoting the successful implementation of an education system that includes & supports all learners with special needs in all centres of learning in the W Cape…”
I think the spark caught fire when Birgit Schweizer (CMHS) and Caroline Taylor (WCFID) met up with Shona Mcdonald & Michele Belknap (PACSEN) and shared a common vision. In turn Pat Birkett and Jos Horwitz of ELRU came on board, as did Laetitia Brummer (at that stage with her own small practice..YES..Young Educational Services). Down Syndrome Western Cape and SANEL (Epilepsy) also came on board together with others, including some individual parents and people with disabilities – notably Madoda Mashila and Vic Mckinney. We drew in academics (Sigamoney Naicker) and people working on the ground for WCED (some of the early Learning Support advisors). Commitment to collaboration was key to our operation. We placed high value on the benefits of networking and developing working partnerships with a wide range of fellow service-providers.
The Forum organised meetings & workshops to inform and educate teachers, parents and the general public. We had exhibitions where service-providers could show-case their services and resources – courses, publications, etc) people with disabilities and/or their parents spoke about their experiences; local & international speakers talked about their understanding of IE; issues such as early identification & intervention were explored.
We weren’t shy about engaging WCED at all levels! And invited the Head of Special Needs Directorate (as was) to attend our early meetings; offered to train WCED officials; etc!! We started as activists and so were lobbying for proper implementation from the get-go!
At this stage a small office was run from Shona’s house in Plumstead with Michele at the helm.
In 1999, thanks to Shona and Michele’s efforts, we received a 3 year grant from the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund to establish a small IE resource centre. We managed to secure a space (for a “peppercorn” rent) at what was then the Newlands School Clinic..thanks to Brad Bailey the senior psychologist there. We felt this was a great coup..to be housed in a WCED building!!
Michele started the set-up process as the first part-time Resource Centre coordinator. Caroline stepped into the second post during 2000.
IEWC did not wait for the policymaking process to catch up and set to work developing services based on the understanding that inclusive education in the South African context is not just about accommodating learners with disabilities in ordinary schools – but about creating schools that provide effective and supportive education for all learners who are experiencing any type of barrier to learning. We knew this involved raising awareness and advocating change, researching the needs in different communities, providing resources and support to communities, and developing and delivering appropriate training programmes and building capacity in ECD centre and schools.
IESA is in the process of capturing the history of the organisation…which we are very excited about…so stay tuned for part 2!