Wilson Moshupya got on a plane for the first time ever this February to attend the glittering 19th National Teaching Awards (NTA) at the Sandton Convention Centre. A sign language facilitator at Teacher Development Workshops for more than a decade, he thrilled his Penreach family with a second place in the Special Needs Teaching category.

The awards ceremony is a culmination of a comprehensive judging process, which starts off with a provincial nomination, followed by a vigorous sifting process. It includes teachers from a range of South African schools and is an acknowledgement of extraordinary efforts, often in very difficult conditions.

Wilson was blown away by the experience, and says he never saw himself up there. In fact, he never really set out on a clearly defined career path, except for a strong calling towards God and the need to bring hope to the disabled. He started off ingloriously by failing matric and, in a self-confessed ego-driven move, refusing to repeat the year. “I didn’t take school seriously,” he chuckles.

When he had to make a decision regarding the future, he was guided toward a course on caring for the handicapped. He also did paramedic training, but couldn’t find a job in the field without a matric certificate. In 2003, he volunteered as a teacher’s assistant at a special needs school, before accepting a position as a special needs teacher at Kamagugu Secondary School three years later.

As a Sepedi-speaker, he laughs about how he had to learn not only Siswati, but also sign language, taught to him by a deaf friend. He soon discovered a deep love for working with hearing-impaired children, as well as empathy for the obstacles their families were facing. “These poor parents are often feeling hopeless.” You have to develop language between parents and child because if there’s no language, there’s no integration. It is wonderful to walk the road with people who are feeling hopeless.”

In the meantime, he’s also formalised his education, at first completing a teacher’s diploma, and currently for an honours degree in educational psychology. He’s also completed a Bible school diploma and is combining his calling as a preacher with his work in the community. He enjoys touching lives and making a difference.

Once a delegate, now a facilitator, he only has praise for how Penreach’s workshops make a difference. “It gives people skills, something that provides a living and sustains a family. I’m proud to be part of the family.”

His own classes are not only for teachers, but also for parents and other interested parties. He gives them the basics, he says, but in order to develop sign language properly, one has to socialise with deaf people and practice. “You have to find deaf people in the community and talk to them.” “

He firmly believes life is not about money, but about touching the lives around you. “Whether it’s organising a grant, getting a child into school, helping with a hearing aid or facilitating communication, it’s all life changing. It’s great to be part of that process – I’m proud of what I’m doing.”

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