Social Lighthouse for blind turns 80

The Lighthouse Association for the Blind, based in Goodwood, will celebrate its 80th anniversary next month.

Honorary president Clive Payne, from Gardens, said the association was established in 1937 in a bid to eliminate the loneliness that many blind people contend with.

Ivan Rainier, manager of the association in Edgemead, said it was started by Marjorie Watson as a result of her insight into the social needs of visually impaired people.

“We tend to the social needs of blind and partially-sighted people in the greater Cape Town area through club meetings and outings with a particular emphasis on eliminating their loneliness and helping them with their special requirements,” he said.

Mr Payne said they have over 50 members from the northern and southern suburbs and the CBD.

“A lot of blind people tend to sit at home and we host social gatherings to give them an opportunity to socialise with like-minded people,” he said.

Members pay a nominal annual fee and the association caters for anyone with a recognised sight problem.

Mr Payne said the club meets on the first and third Thursday of every month at the Pinelands Town Hall.

“The first Thursday is a games evening where members play darts, chess, dominoes and bingo. On the third Thursday they take part in discussions about various topics; host choral performances while light refreshments are served,” he said.

He said chess is popular among their members with many of them thrashing sighted people.

They also enjoy bowls and next month three of them will compete in the National Bowls Championship in Johannesburg.

Mr Payne said the members are also taken on outings. They have been to Robben Island; up Table Mountain with the cable car; Goudini Spa and to Club Mykonos where they have even tried their hand at a “little gambling”, he quipped.

Mr Rainier said secretary and home visitor, Pulcherie Strangwayes plays a pivotal role in the association.

“Her function is to visit sick members; take them to doctor’s appointments and the pharmacy as well as doing their shopping or just popping in to their homes to enjoy a cup of tea and a chat,” he said.

Mr Payne said while working at the SABC in Johannesburg, he tuned into a radio station and heard a blind man call in to a show asking why there were no programmes on radio for blind people.

“My life would have been completely different if I had not heard that man on the radio. The next day, I went to my boss and asked if I could start a radio programme aimed at the blind. The show was a quarter of an hour each week and it was called InTouch and it was aimed at helping blind people in their daily lives as well as conscientising sighted people about the challenges that blind people face in society,” he said.

The association was initially a social club but that changed when they started doing outreach work in Cape Town’s townships.

The Khayelitsha Lukhanyo Club was born in 1965 to help indigent visually impaired people.

“Members don’t pay a fee instead they are given identity cards which entitles them to the privileges provided. They are given a three course meal; grocery parcels and re-imbursed for their transport costs.”

Mr Payne said accessing housing and work opportunities are a few of the challenges they face.

“However, three of our members are employed at the South African Revenue Services (SARS) as switchboard operators. One guy is a piano tuner and some of our members work in the IT industry; at the bank and many of them go on to become physiotherapists.”

Mr Rainier said the organisation relies on funding from the Lotteries Board and individual donors.

“It costs R35 000 a month to run the association and we are appealing to people to donate to our worthy cause even if they can only give R50 a month,” he said.

Mr Payne said the public should realise that the blind are highly functional and intelligent people.

“I would urge people not to ask a guide dog how their master is doing when they see them out,” he quipped.

Do’s and don’ts when interacting with blind people:

Don’t shout when you speak to them; they can’t see but their hearing is fine.

Do touch them on their arm or use their names when addressing them.

Don’t grab them to lead them. Allow them to take your arm when walking.

Don’t distract their guide dogs. They are not pets; they are working companions.

Don’t be afraid to use words like “blind” or “see”. Their eyes may not work but it’s still nice for them to “see” you.

Treat them as individuals. Blind people come in all shapes, sizes and colours and have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else.

To donate, call 021 591 1544 or email lightforblind@sadomain.co.za