If you think a room of eight young people who are unable to speak is a quiet place, you would be sorely mistaken. The participants of this year's Fofa Communication Empowerment Programme conclusively proved this when a spontaneous music and dance session evolved from one of the workshop activities. The eight young adults each had a turn to take centre stage and express themselves by dancing and vocalising to their favourite song.
The Fofa Programme, the first of its kind in Africa, began in September 2005. It is based on a similar programme, Augmentative Communication and Empowerment Supports (ACES), developed by Prof Diane Bryen, at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA (Bryen, Sleseransky & Baker, 1995). Fofa is the Sesotho word for 'to fly' or 'to soar'. Young adults with severe communication disabilities aged between 19 and 35 years attend a yearly training week at the University of Pretoria (UP). The programme is aimed at improving their communication competence and empowering them.
This year's Fofa participants came from five provinces and included four who had not taken part before, two returning participants and two alumni of the programme who acted as mentors. All the participants have severe communication disabilities. Many come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have experienced a lack of agency and self-determination. Together with their personal assistants, they were hosted at the University from 18–24 September 2016. They engaged in daily workshops, presentations and social activities aimed at encouraging them to optimise their use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and to start voicing their own dreams and hopes for the future.
The week started off with AAC systems checks and optimisation. Much of the remainder of the week was spent on a series of workshops by staff of UP's Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAAC) under the banner, 'Daring to dream', whereby participants were encouraged to express and visualise their 'big dream' – the one life goal most important to them at the moment. These ranged from professional training, employment and career choices to entrepreneurial business ventures. Participants were then also encouraged to put action plans in place to assist them in working towards the fulfilment of their dreams, and to complete at least the first step during the week. Daring to Dream: Turning Dreams into Future Realities was developed by Professor Emerita Diane Nelson Bryen (Bryen, 2012).
Mr Ramari Booi from Khano Consulting Services gave an engaging presentation on how to navigate the job market and alerted participants to various forms of employment and income-generating opportunities. On Wednesday, they hit the streets of Hatfield to have lunch at Wimpy – a learning experience for some of the participants, as they ordered their own meals for the first time, and certainly a learning experience form many of the Wimpy staff, who had to take orders placed using AAC.
On Friday, 23 September, participants shared their dreams, goals and insights gained with an open audience, using their AAC devices. They convinced their audience that although they may have difficulty speaking they have many ambitious dreams and goals for their lives and are fully determined to reach them. In spite of the challenges that many of them have faced, they are determined to spread their wings and fly.
The CAAC staff are very grateful to Momentum, whose generous support made it possible to present the project again this year.
Bryen, D. N. (2012). Daring to Dream: Turning Dreams into Future Realities. Amazon, Kindle Edition, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008O5BKHU
Bryen, D.N., Sleseransky, G. & Baker, D. (1995). Augmentative Communication and Empowerment Supports: A Look at Outcomes. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 11 (2).