‘He is a blessing’

INSPIRED … Alesandro, Nehemiah, Janeley, Bonita and Govidence Antoncich. Photo: Taati Niilenge

… Walvis family gives hope to parents of children with Down syndrome

A Journey raising a child with Down syndrome has inspired a Narraville family at Walvis Bay to finally realise their dream of starting a pre-primary school for children living with the same condition.

The Antoncich family founded the Yahweh Down Syndrome Foundation in 2022 in honour of their six-year-old son, Nehemiah, who has Down’s syndrome.

Bonita Antoncich says the launch of the foundation’s pre-primary school two weeks ago was the result of many prayers.

The family adopted Nehemia in 2017 and says it has been a blessing to raise him.

“I was helping out a foundation in 2017 and was informed there was a pregnant woman who wanted to give her baby up for adoption.

“I told my family about it and after consideration and discussion, we decided we would like to adopt.

“Nehemia was born on 17 August 2017, and joined our family when he was only one day old,” Bonita says.

A year later, Nehemia started showing signs of illness and the family was informed he has a chronic heart infection.

He was also diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.

Nehemia was rushed to Cape Town for a heart operation in 2019, which was successful.

The family struggled to find an appropriate school for their son and finally decided to launch programmes for parents experiencing the same challenges.

Bonita’s daughter, Janeley Antoncich (26), embarked on extensive research looking for courses on taking care of children with special needs.

“I was an au pair from 2019 to 2021 and learned a lot about children. I made sure I learned a lot about taking care of children like Nehemia.

“We are happy to assist parents who do not know how to stimulate and help them. I started with three children and learned even more.

“The aim is to later integrate these children into mainstream schools so they are able to live a normal life.

“We aim to have children with Down’s syndrome accepted and living a normal life. We are working to create awareness that they are like any other person,” she says.

The foundation was blessed with a 12-metre container last year, which the family is trying to turn into a child-friendly environment.

The school is, however, in need of an additional structure, which would be turned into a sleeping area.

The Welwitschia hospital has already sponsored six beds for this.

Fundraising events will be organised to provide transportation for the children to and from the school.

“Transport is a real problem, as we have to travel by taxi to transport some children to and from here.

“We then provide them with lessons, stimulation and food. There is a need for such a school at Walvis Bay.

“The town already has one, but it cannot take care of all the children. “ says Janeley, who is assisted by two other teachers.

The foundation hosted two fundraising events in the form of beauty pageants for women over 40 in the past two years, which helped a lot with securing start-up funds, she says.

It plans to expand the school to a maximum of 12 children.

Some of the parents contribute about N$600 occasionally, but the school needs more funds to cater for those who cannot afford payment.

Parent Magrieta van Schalkwyk says the school has changed her life.

“My daughter was at other schools and they couldn’t handle her. She gets a lot of attention at Yahweh,” she says.

Although the focus is on children with Down’s syndrome, the school, which receives assistance from two social workers at the town, is open to all children.

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