Using art to teach, love and learn

Chairman of Sinethemba Special Care Centre, Gilean Norman, is pictured with Christopher Bell and Cinzian Bomvu who are immersed in their art class.

Sindy Rebelo’s story is all about ability. It is about art, and an upcoming market which will – for the first time – showcase a collection of work by a local art class.

What sets the class aside is that it is taken at Sinethemba Special Care Centre.

Sindy, 44, is the star of the class – and she’s also no stranger to exhibitions, having organised her own in Pretoria before making Cape Town her home.

Jorge Rebelo, Sindy’s dad, says Sindy is perfectly proficient on her iPad and texts and WhatsApps her friends and contacts personally.

Sindy’s cerebral palsy – the fact that she is in a wheelchair and has the use of just three fingers to paint with – are simply conditions of her world.

Sindy’s smile is genuine, her talent is undeniable, and her commitment to her art, absolute.

Her love of painting was evident as a little girl and Sindy has worked at her art all her life.

She is painting a sunflower in buttery shades of yellow as we chat. Her concentration is pure, and she is meticulous. At her side is Blessing Muzvidzo, who helps the Rebelo family at home, and also acts as an aide for Sindy in the art classes.

“I just help in small ways. Sindy paints everything herself,” says Blessing.

Art is her greatest – but not her only – joy. Sindy used to do wheelchair dancing. “She also enjoys going to the theatre and eating out,” says Jorge.

Sindy smiles, says: “I like to go out.” She says she loves all kinds of painting, she doesn’t really have a favourite kind, and says that some of her artwork is being printed onto fabric and cushion covers.

She likes that idea, that art can be appreciated in different ways.

Gilean Norman, chairman of Sinethemba Special Care Centre, produces the fabric, and shows off the cushion covers in their current state. They are beautiful. There is great excitement about the art class’s first upcoming market being held at Longbeach Mall this Friday.

“I introduced the idea of the art class just about a year ago, as an additional focus for our adults. They used to get together and learn about life skills such as hygiene and sexuality and so on, and I thought they would enjoy a creative experience,” Gilean says.

“They do. The classes are full and everyone is actively engaged in a range of activities.

The class is divided into two groups, and each has a facilitator. Alana Thirlwell leads one group, and she enjoys bringing new ideas to the group each week and seeing how the members respond.

“It is all a learning curve – and I love it. For instance, we have to make our clay dough extremely salty – or some members of my group will eat it,” she says.

Her group members laugh merrily. “Who knew?” Alana grins.

Sindy’s group paints, and makes artsand craft items from paper mache. They are guided by Caroline Boucher who has an arts degree and speaks passionately about the benefits of art for everyone.

The adults art class meets three times a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am to noon.

All participants have something nutritious to eat before heading home with a new skill. “We often get donations from Woolworths, so everyone who attends Sinethemba has a good meal. For the children it’s especially important,” says Gilean.

There are still a few spaces available for children who may need special care at Sinethemba. The centre is the Noordhoek Welfare Association’s main project. Sinethemba is a day care facility that focuses on children with severe and profound special needs. Their children are autistic, or have foetal alcohol syndrome, Down syndrome or cerebral palsy, among other conditions.

Sinethemba has an average of three children a year who are integrated into the mainstream school environment. For those children whose needs do not allow for that, Sinethemba keeps them as comfortable as possible and offers daily stimulation programmes through carers and therapists. “This service enables the parents to go out and work, assured that their children are being taken care of,” Gilean says. “This is so freeing because it allows the parents the opportunity to work.”

The association was originally established in 1954 to meet the needs of
farmworkers in Fish Hoek, Kommetjie, Noordhoek and surrounds, in order to address poverty, unemployment and lack of housing due to the rezoning of farmland to residential land.

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Then in the 1970s the association identified a need for care for both physically and intellectually challenged members of the community. A building was identified and after funds raised, restored. A lease was arranged with the Department of Public Works.

Two special care centres – one in Masi and one in Ocean View – opened to the communities. In 2009 the decision was made to amalgamate the two centres due to extensive vandalism and break-ins experienced at Ocean View Special Care Centre.

In February 2009 Ocean View Special Care re-located to Sinethemba Special Care Centre. Then there was happy news: the Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope responded to an application by the association and agreed to extend the centre.

The Rotary Wing’s official opening was on June 2, 2010. Last week when the False Bay Echo visited, the centre was peacefully going about its business. The adults were absolutely enthralled in making their art. Children were playing on the jungle gym, others were soaking up the sun, some were sitting at tables. One little boy paused halfway through his crawl to beam up at us.

Gilean says just mere months ago he had arrived unable to crawl – he was not interacting with anyone.

He happily joined the tour of the centre, keeping a sharp eye out for brooms, which he loves to play with. Staff members here are wholly immersed in their calling – this is not a job to them – and at least two have been with the centre in excess of 28 years.

They will watch this bright-eyed boy on his hunt for the next broom make his way through all their classes, right into the adults class.

The adult art class has its exhibition market at Long Beach Mall tomorrow, Friday September 22.

Sinethemba is at 4 Pokelo Road, Masiphumele. To learn more about the centre, call the CEO Lexanne Raath on 021 785 7398 or email