‘The Lafras Story’ is a story of undying hope.
Love enough to want to make a difference.
It is also the story of social media and how one act of kindness can unlock a whole chain-reaction of love & kindness.
I met Lafras through a text-message.
It was 2010.
I was presenting the breakfast show on Kingfisher FM.
Lafras was listening.
He loved a song or a comment & sent a text message to our short-code message system to say as much.
I saw the message & appreciated the feedback.
Over time, as days gave way to weeks & months, I noticed more messages.
In conversation with someone who was contributing some devotional content at the time, Lafras’ name came up.
We were having breakfast around the corner from the radio station.
Dawie just wanted to spend some time together.
He is a caring man.
He wanted to know how I am.
How the radio station was doing.
He asked if I’ve noticed Lafras.
And then he started telling me who Lafras was.
A twenty-five year old man from Uitenhage.
Living in his mother’s house, his mother taking care of him the best way she could.
But poverty is relentless.
There were no carers.
Lafras living an isolated life in a small room with nothing more than a bed & bare cement floors.
I could hear that Dawie was touched by this young man.
Stuck in a wheelchair.
In a body that allowed him only the use of one finger on his right hand & his mouth & eyes & brain.
A while later, I received a friend request from Lafras on Facebook.
Dawie, trying to make some kind of difference in Lafras’ life had gone & bought a computer & set Lafras up with an internet connection.
It wasn’t a freebie.
There is no dignity in freebies.
In exchange for the computer & internet connection, Lafras would have to copy CD’s of Dawie’s devotional programs.
It was tedious & slow.
The first responsibility Lafras was entrusted with in his entire life.
There was a time when he was at school.
But that became too expensive and after finishing Grade 9 or standard 7 at the age of fifteen, even that came to an end.
What would a boy like Lafras do with an education anyway?
The pride in Lafras that he could do something meaningful was magnificent.
His entire life he’d been told that his life would amount to nothing.
That his disability had taken him prisoner & he couldn’t do much more than be a burden on the lives of the people to whom he had been entrusted.
Perhaps his life had taken his family prisoner as well.
His parents were young when they had him.
Barely out of school.
No marriage or life-long commitment was ever consummated.
Perhaps many parents who bear disabled children feel a sense of failure? A sense of: ‘this is all I can bring to life’? Perhaps, when a disabled child is born, to teenagers living in a religious environment, a birth like Lafras’ is seen as punishment, not ‘gift’ or ‘opportunity’?
I don’t know.
I can only imagine.
And resolve to consistently walk away from judgement, for I do not know where Lafras’ parents where back in 1985.
Or what they experienced growing up.
Or even if they had people around them, supporting them as they received a life into this world.
Over the next few months Lafras would message me on Facebook.
He would talk & post & poke while I’m in studio or with my family or traveling.
I’d talk back & we would have entire conversations.
I’m sure he spoke to many others.
He kept on insisting that I would come & visit him.
Which I tried to avoid.
Uitenhage is a 50 mile drive from Port Elizabeth & it would take at least a morning out of my day.
That’s what I told myself.
Always dodging the invitations on Facebook & Twitter.
A world had opened up for Lafras.
Through the simple act of kindness of a computer & internet connection, Lafras had been connected to the world.
To new people.
People who spoke with him, not as a quadriplegic or disabled individual or burden, but as a being.
A beautiful soul.
Then one clear Tuesday morning I had to drive to Uitenhage to go and see clients.
Lafras saw this on Facebook.
He repeated his invitation. Never demanding. Always insistent. ‘You’re going to be in Uitenhage anyway. Why don’t you just pop-in. Maybe. If you have a moment.’
And I could not say ‘no’.
So I saw the clients.
And then I met Lafras.
For the first time in person.
We spoke easily. Also of his dream to prove all those voices wrong. The voices screaming that he would be nothing but a burden until he is buried. His dream of ‘getting out of here’. Of studying & working & earning his own keep. Of living an independent life. Of making a difference in the lives of others.
On my way home that afternoon the thoughts going through my mind was: is that even possible, is this poor man not hoping for something that would never be?
And in the following days I realized it would never be, unless we become the answer to his hope & prayers.
And so we resolved to come alongside him.
We did the math.
To get Lafras in an environment where he had 24 hour care – which is what he needed, as the most basic bodily functions with which we can help ourselves & which we so easily take for granted, is something with which he needed assistance – would cost more than R12 000 per month.
Where would we find that kind of money?
So we started searching.
Lafras alongside us by phone & e-mail.
And then we stumbled upon Quad-House.
A subsidised home for quadriplegic with 24 hour care, cleaning, cooking & a homely environment.
There are few of these facilities & they are mostly full.
By some stroke of luck or grace, as we make contact with them, two rooms had opened up. They’re previous occupants moving on in life, into greater independence.
We arrange an interview.
A friend takes a day off from his business to fetch Lafras & drive him to the interview. Take him home again.
It isn’t simple when you’re in a chair.
You need special transport. A vehicle which can accommodate your chair.
Lafras gets in.
He is accepted.
Now, instead of trying to raise R12000 per month, we only need to raise R1000. His subsidised care and accommodation, including meals will cost R2000 per month. He gets a government grant of a thousand rand.
We meet with his parents.
They’re happy for Lafras.
Sad as well.
He has filled their life for 27 years.
The thought that he would ever make it on his own, never crossed their mind.
Would he make it on his own?
Is this not just a desperate attempt that would fail?
But Lafras is not on his own.
His father agrees to take responsibility for the balance.
There is dignity in this as well.
But moving into Quadhouse isn’t just about a R2000 a month bill. There is a room to be made a home. There is stuff like clothes, toiletries, a little more than just caring & three meals a day.
Dawie says he’ll help as well.
She & a friend runs a design company. Their the two birds of 2Birdslanding. Tania & Jackie starts rallying support. Dawie buys paint & provides a painter. The two birds enable a process of creating a home.
Carmel from Sherwood Garden Centre offer to donate plants.
For inside Lafras’ room & outside his window.
Kelly, a decorator at New Room Interiors, offer to create bedding & linen.
Rory at Daltar Print & copy offer to create a final print of Lafras’ moto: Life is an adventure waiting to happen.
Errol does whatever his hands find to do. Putting up shelves. Removing nails. Moving stuff.
Hilda Beukes, an artist from Bloemfontein says she’ll create a painting for his new room’s wall. He wants a forest scene. Perhaps a view into a world he’s only seen on TV or a computer screen?
It is happening.
But moving to Quadhouse is only a firs step.
There is no independence in it.
Not complete independence.
Although his life is changed.
So we talk & ask & tell.
A GP says he’ll do house-calls on Lafras.
Taking care of his basic medical needs.
But we need to get Lafras studying.
He wants to become a sound engineer.
He has a good ear.
But he never completed school.
It seems an insurmountable obstacle.
How will we ever get Lafras what he needs to get studying?
It will cost a fortune.
Then Andrea contacts us. She’s at INTEC Collge. They will sponsor Lafras’ studies.
And Lafras’ life is changed.
By people who loved enough to want to make a difference.
He’ll need many more people to come alongside him.
This story is still being written.
But so is mine & ours.
And we too need people to come alongside us.
Perhaps that is something we’ve lost in this post-modern democratic world we live in.
Our connection & interdependence.
Our sharing life in good & bad.
Our African-spirit of ‘Ubuntu’, that we’re not here because of ourselves.
Perhaps that is the one thing all of us regained, as we started sharing the life & hopes & dreams of a man who was determined enough to not stop believing.
Tania & Jackie.
Rory & Carmel & Kelly.
And the GP who doesn’t want to be named.
And Andrea at INTEC College.
Perhaps we regained a new consciousness.
And as Lafras will fly through open blue skies, we will fly alongside him.
And perhaps you too, as you join us in loving enough to want to make a difference?
For it was a single act of love that set this in motion.
And social media that gave it energy.
Imagine the world we can create.
Imagine how different it can be.