Visually impaired students playing chess as part of an extracurricular activityProgramme name: Bona uBuntu (“See humanity”) 
Dates: started in November 2017
Key partner: Small Projects Foundation
Visio contact: Els de Keijzer, 

Who we serve

In 2020, it was estimated that around 11 million people in South Africa (19.1% of the population) had some form of vision loss, and of those, 1,132,000 people had either mild or severe vision impairment. 

Our target group is blind and partially sighted children (under 18 years old) in the Eastern Cape, as well as their caregivers. Most of the beneficiaries of the programme come from poor families, dependent on state support and services.


What we do

People with a visual impairment in South Africa generally do not have access to affordable healthcare services, assistive devices, quality education, low-vision services or rehabilitation and support. The Bona uBuntu Programme provides support in each of these areas: 


  • Support for children and caregivers. We provide support for visually impaired children and their caregivers, focusing on socio-emotional support and empowerment for caregivers. Support, training and advice is readily available for families, teachers and schools to support the children. 
  • Income generation. Many children with visual impairments come from impoverished families. Through our programme, one of our stakeholders, Nkosinathi Foundation, set up and runs a sewing enterprise to help caregivers learn skills to earn money to support themselves and break the cycle of poverty and unemployment. 
  • Skills for living. We run ongoing extracurricular activities, vocational programmes, workshops and youth groups. These aim to empower visually impaired children and teens to gain the skills they need to develop to their full potential, advocate for themselves and fully participate in an inclusive society - at home, school and in their communities. 
Visually impaired learners selling items made during vocational skills training


Quality of services

  • Training. We provide regular specialized training to the education and healthcare professionals who work with children with visual impairments and their caregivers. The training aims to improve the skills of professionals, and to enable them to provide quality services within their field. 
  • Assistive devices. Using the correct assistive devices is vital for children with visual impairments to learn. We advise learners, parents and professionals on which devices to use, and train learners on how to use the devices. We advocate for the government to provide the devices people need. 
  • Specialist schools. We work closely with the three special schools in the Eastern Cape that cater specifically for blind and visually impaired children. These serve a total of around 400 students. We provide teacher training, professional development opportunities, a variety of workshops, specialized advice and empowerment programmes for learners.
  • Mainstream schools. We ensure that itinerant support is readily available for learners in mainstream schools who have a visual impairment, as well as for their teachers. We train and advise teachers, adapt resources, and offer in-class support. Such support makes inclusion possible and enables more children with a visual impairment to get the quality education they need. 
  • Early childhood development. The programme uses an innovative, integrated approach to early education. Visually impaired preschoolers are fully integrated into a mainstream preschool. They have small breakaway classes to ensure they get teaching content adapted to their needs. They also get specialized support (such as braille lessons) to prepare them to merge into the mainstream school system - but they spend most of the time learning and playing alongside their sighted peers.
Early childhood development at the Miss Muffet pre-primary school: reading is fun


Access to information and services

  • Screening. Early identification is crucial in ensuring that visually impaired children and their caregivers can get the help and treatment they need. Our visual screening programme tested 11,700 children in 2023. Some 600 of them will receive the glasses they need. This initiative detected 30 learners with visual impairments who would have otherwise been missed. 
  • Awareness campaigns. Our awareness raising aimed at caregivers, teachers and health care workers focusing on the warning signs of a visual problem has been very successful. It was accompanied by a series of posters distributed via social media and in print across the Eastern Cape. 
  • A toll-free call centre, started in 2022, enables anyone to get advice about an eye condition and a referral for screening or treatment. 
  • People with albinism still face discrimination, false information and fears for their safety. This too is a big awareness focus. We aim to dispel the myths and overcome the stigma associated with this condition.
  • VIP ambassadors are learners identified as strong leaders at the special schools for visually impaired. They engage with the media, the public, local leaders and community representatives, and lead advocacy and awareness campaigns.  
  • Advocacy forums. We facilitate lobbying and advocacy forums to inform policymakers and the public about the needs and abilities of people with visual impairments. We press for policies that enable them to lead fulfilled lives. 
Training of teachers at Khanyisa school, Gqeberha


Where we work

We work in the Eastern Cape, the poorest province in South Africa. This province is estimated to have 16 000 children with a visual impairment. The programme has activities primarily in Gqeberha (formerly known as Port Elizabeth), East London, Mthatha and Bizana. We focus particularly on the 400 learners with visual impairments and their teachers at the three specialist schools in these cities, as well as the learners with visual impairments in mainstream schools elsewhere in the Eastern Cape.

How we work

The Bona uBuntu (“See humanity”) programme was launched in 2017 in Nelson Mandela Bay (the area around Gqeberha). This programme aims to ensure that partially sighted and blind children aged 0-18 can develop their full potential and participate in an inclusive society, at home, school and in their communities.

Our partners

Small Projects Foundation is the key partner in the Bona uBuntu programme. This is a nongovernmental organization with a 32-year history of contributing to development in the Eastern Cape. Its approach involves identifying critical constraints, establishing pilot projects, and then scaling these pilots into self-sustainable programmes. The Foundation collaborates closely with various organizations, including:


  • Departments of Education, Health and Social Development


  • Khanyisa School for the Blind, Gqeberha
  • Efata School for the Blind and Deaf, Mthatha 
  • Zamokuhle Special School, Bizana 
  • 20+ mainstream schools that accommodate learners with a visual impairment (primarily in Gqeberha) 
  • Miss Muffet pre-primary school, Gqeberha 

Rehabilitation centres

  • Nkosinathi Foundation
  • REHAB 4 People with Disabilities East London
Training and lobbying organizations for people with a visual impairment.

Vision screening: a little girl getting her eyes checked


Our impact

  • We have provided hundreds of teachers, caregivers, government officials and health care professionals with specialized training and knowledge on how best to support children with a visual impairment. This has led to an overall improvement in services available for these children.
  • We have increased awareness of the capabilities of children with a visual impairment, and the ability of parents to advocate for their child. 
  • More children with a visual impairment have been referred for assistance and now receive the support and intervention that they need. 
  • We have forged strong relationships with local health and education authorities. Our engagement with stakeholders is growing.
  • Our support for children and caregivers has enabled more children to start school at the appropriate age. 
  • More children now stay in mainstream schools with the support of the itinerant teacher. 
  • We have raised awareness on the importance of vision, early warning signs of a vision problem and what to do when a problem is suspected. This has resulted in many learners getting the support they need to continue learning and have a successful school career. 
  • High-quality early education ensures that young children are able to fully participate alongside their sighted peers when they start school. 

More information