Paddle challenge for intellectually impaired

A group of intellectually challenged people recently went on a kayaking adventure and now can’t wait to get back onto the water.

On Youth Day, Friday June 16, and with much apprehension, five brave youngsters, aged between 25 and 35, donned life jackets after gathering at Seaforth.

They live at Humberstone House, a home for intellectually disabled young adults in Plumstead .

They regularly go on outings but the kayak trip was the biggest adventure so far. They have tried horse riding and hiking in the past but some of them have perception or balance difficulties and struggle with anything more than a stroll in the green-

Tony Heher of Constantia, who is father to Ralph and a trustee of Humberstone House, organised the event. Seeing that weather conditions were ideal, he sent out a
call for assistance to members of the Paddlers group, most of whom live in and around Simon’s
Town and the False Bay Yacht Club.

Despite having no idea if the youngsters would cope, he decided it was worth a try. “I did give them an initial trial at Zandvlei where two of them fell out of my Paddleyak. That’s why we went to Seaforth and hired the Fluids that Shark Warriors use, which are much more stable and surprisingly nimble and pleasant to paddle,” says Dr Heher.

With Terry Corr of Shark Warriors providing paddle guidelines and safety, they set off from Seaforth and managed to paddle to Boulders and back. However, the youngsters did not find kayaking easy. “It was a challenge for them to co-ordinate their paddling, keep their balance and keep in the right direction. But they did it, which is why they found it so satisfying,” says Dr Heher.

Mr Corr says it was challenging for him as well because he was not sure of their capabilities. “But I’m delighted with the early results. I could see clearly a huge improvement for each of them and the benefits of the activity, instruction, open air, their response to the birds… I see huge potential and benefits. The smiles on their faces made my day,” he says.

Ian Botha of the Paddlers group says it was a pleasure to be able to help out. “Their enjoyment is justification of everything and now that I have a better idea as to what is involved, you can call on me for a hand,” says Mr Botha.

Beaming with pride, Gareth Putzel says he is thrilled to have gone out so far and that he managed it. His sister Natalie says her arms were getting sore from the paddling but she is very happy she did not fall in the water this time. Ralph Heher wanted to know when they are going out again.

Dr Heher says the outing had several objectives besides just fun for the youngsters. “That of raising their self-esteem and sense of worth by doing something different and challenging. It knocks some of the perceptions that the intellectually challenged should be behind closed doors, that they can get out and do challenging things,” he says.

He says it was also good to get the community involved and also raises awareness of Humberstone House.

Dr Heher and the other parents are not getting any younger and this was why they set up Humberstone House as there are no state-run facilities. “It’s the terror of all parents as to what will happen when we’re gone. The challenge is to make financial provision, which is a struggle for many, and also to ensure longevity. That’s why we have professional supervision and external directors. We also hope that siblings will get involved,” he says.

The home currently has space for two additional residents and anyone looking for a group home. Call 021 797 9645, 082 654 5582, or email