Visually impaired Linden siblings, fighting to be educated

DPI, Sunday, May 20, 2018

High achievers Relon and Roell Sumner of Blue Berry Hill, Wismar, Linden are unlike most other teenagers. The two siblings are visually impaired having been diagnosed with congenital toxoplasmosis during their early years.

Residing with their mother Ronella Jarvis, stepfather Ryan Waldron and five other siblings at Blue Berry Hill, sixteen-year-old Relon and fourteen-year-old Roell have faced many challenges in their young lives. However, the possibility of not being able to sit and succeed at the Caribbean Secondary Examination Council (CSEC) is the latest hurdle they now have to jump.

The boys were both awarded places at Linden’s premier high school, Mackenzie High when they sat their National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) at the Wismar Hill Research Institute for the Blind. Their nursery and primary school stints were well spent since provisions have been put in place by the Ministry of Education to deal with this particular disability. However, this has not been the same for their time in secondary school.

Third former, Roell is bravely continuing but his sibling Relon has had to drop out as a result of extreme bullying and financial constraints. His hopes of sitting CSEC and being qualified to meet the basic requirements to obtain a decent job have been shelved for the moment. His brother Roell has found it far more difficult for him to attend school without his brother. The boys are also worried about their younger sister Jangi who is also visually impaired.

The siblings were diagnosed with congenital toxoplasmosis during the early years of their life. This is a disease that occurs in fetuses infected with Toxoplasma gondii, a cat-borne protozoan parasite, which is transmitted from mother to fetus. In cases where the mother does not miscarry, the child may be born with serious and progressive visual, hearing, motor, cognitive, and other problems.

During an interview with this publication, Ronella said, “I carry them to town and to the eye clinic and all they use to say ‘is just a jerky movement, just an issue with the eye’ and I just went with it.” As time progressed and continuous tests were made, Linden’s only ophthalmologist, Dr. Rameeza McDonald, diagnosed the two boys with the disease. Ronella disclosed, “There is a small percentage in my blood and is either I contract it either when the cats and dogs use to be around me, or if I ate half cooked food, that is how I got the disease.”

Challenges raising children that are visually impaired

For any mother, raising normal children can be challenging. Therefore, for a mother raising several children with disabilities, this poses challenges. She fights day by day to make sure they live a normal life, especially to be educated. This is the most difficult fight she has been enduring. She believes that much more needs to be done for special needs students in Linden.

According to the mother, there is much to be desired in the education system in the mining town. “I got a recorder for my son and it is like waste of time as he is just going with the recorder and coming home back with it. A few teachers might ask for the recorder. Numerous times I go to the school and see my son sitting at the back of the class, and the teacher would say oh he is not doing this subject and I would say nothing is wrong with his ears, he can learn”, she complained.

Their stepfather, Ryan is hopeful that the respective authorities will support the family in ensuring the brothers receive an education. The family, he said, is not in a position to provide for the boys, all the days of their life. “That is why we insisting on the education because if them aint catch nothing we have to look them after all the years because they won’t be able to earn. That is why we insisting that they get some kind of education because we won’t be here all the time”, Ryan posited. In addition to selling a few homemade loaves of bread in the afternoons, the family has no other income, other than the public assistance of $7, 500 each for the two boys.  Even though their daughter has been considered visually impaired, she is not a recipient of public assistance

High spirits

Despite these setbacks, the boys continue to display high spirits and are not allowing their disabilities to affect their everyday life. They both play blind cricket and have represented Guyana on the national team as well. Relon has dreams of becoming a special needs teacher. “I would like to become a special needs teacher for the visually impaired, I feel that they don’t have enough teachers and I will be able to help out in a great way,” he said. Roell, is hoping to continue excelling in school.  “The children feel that because I get this eye problem I can’t do well, and the teacher said that she would automatically put me over because the pass mark is 55 percent but I have to get 65 percent and I said I will pass both 55 and 65 percent”. Roell exclaimed after boasting of his whopping 77 percent.  The family is calling for the Education Ministry to seriously consider establishing an institution in Linden that will allow for the students, as in Georgetown, to have a sound secondary education and to sit their CSEC comfortably.

By Vanessa Braithwaite

Images by Vanessa Braithwaite