Behind the flamboyant exterior and passionate ‘sick for the game’ eccentricism of the dynamic Shaheen Shaw on our daily Tellytrack screens, as he goads us to ‘hit them hard sunshines’, is a remarkable story of love and courage some 10 years in the making. Wednesday was FASD Awareness Day worldwide. A reality close to home for the Shaw family. They have chosen to open their hearts to us.
The ninth day of the ninth month symbolises the nine months of pregnancy and at 09h09 on Wednesday across the different time zones, the world will pause for a moment of reflection.
The aim of the day is to raise awareness of the risk to the unborn baby from drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and to bring attention to the needs of those born affected by FASD.
FASD is an umbrella term for a range of physical, cognitive and behavioural impairments caused by alcohol exposure during fetal development.
FASD is the leading preventable cause of neuro-developmental disability in the developed world, yet it remains one of the most neglected.
South Africa has the highest rate in the world and probably the least support for the disability.
Prenatal alcohol exposure can result in impairments that affect the physical development of the child but primarily it causes brain-based neuro-disability that substantially impairs day-to-day learning, functioning and social interactions.
The Hurlingham based Shaheen and his lovely wife Rasheeda are in their ‘fifties’ and been married for 24 years. They have two girls and two boys – and six dogs.
Their youngest was adopted 9 years ago. His name is Zayed and his late mother, Gertrada, worked for the family for a few years.
Loved by all and a hard worker – when sober – her employment was sadly terminated due to her excessive drinking. She continued to visit the Shaws from time to time and arrived one afternoon, after a lengthy absence, both visibly pregnant and drunk.
She planned to send the baby home to her hometown of Williston in the Northern Cape.
The Shaws were aware that a previous child delivered by her some years ago in Cape Town and thereafter sent home, had died of malnutrition and offered to assist her to look after the baby.
At that stage and intoxicated, Gertrada was adamant that the child be sent to Williston and she scoffed at the offer of the Shaws adopting or fostering the child.
Then came an unexpected call from the maternity ward of the local hospital.
Shaheen and Rasheeda and their three children convened a quick vote. A majority of five to none saw them preparing a nursery at home with haste.
To overcome bureaucracy, they were obliged to take both Mom and baby home.
At home that night, Gertrada revealed that she was sick but that the hospital had given her medication to stop the transmission of the virus to the child.
Noticing that Zayed was not keeping pace with the same developmental vitals that she had experienced with her own three children, Rasheeda took him to Red Cross Hospital to be assessed.
Zayed was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. (FAS) – a defect the Shaws had neither knowledge of, nor were even aware existed.
Their relocation to Joburg was followed by the news that Gertrada had been found on the streets gravely ill and had been transferred to a hospice. The first time Rasheeda spoke to Gertrada, she had lost her eyesight but her first question was – ‘’Can Zaydie-boy walk yet?’’.
Unfortunately, the reply was in the negative.
The day Gertrada was slipping in and out of a coma back in Cape Town, Zayed took his first steps aged two-years six-months.
An excited Rasheeda phoned the hospice to tell the nurses to inform his birth mother when she was lucid. Gertrada smiled broadly on receiving the news and succumbed to her illness the next day, aged 27.
Zayed turns 10 on 4 December, but has the mental capacity of a 4yo.
And in typical Shaw household style, he knows all the racing lingo. If he opens the Computaform, he says “hit them hard” and pretends to study and scribble all over the form. Does that sound Rivonia ‘ish’, somehow?
When he watches horseracing, he shouts them home. He knows that his father’s favourite bet is the Bipot. If he sees anything that resembles a tote ticket he picks it up and says, “Here dad, it’s your Bipot, hit them hard!”
Rasheeda says that because their own children were so much older than Zayed it was quite a novelty for them to have a baby in the house.
“They were part of the process from the word go. My eldest daughter is basically like his second mom. He listens to her more than he does me. She’s strict and very firm with him. My youngest daughter takes him all over with her. He likes music and the two of them have the same playlist.”
“We have many challenges with Zayed however it’s VERY DIFFICULT for me to talk about it, I always feel as if I’m complaining about his difficulties which he really cannot help or control. People often say he’s lucky to have us, I feel that it’s the other way around. There are major challenges but my only concern for those are my health and what will happen if I’m not around, that scares me to death. That’s why we decided to expose this part of our lives.”
The Shaws have established an NPO because they have been unable to find Zayed the support or school to accommodate his needs.
“It’s our hope through the NPO to raise awareness and eventually an assisted living facility for Zayed and children like him. There is very little done to help the kids in this country, which has the highest rate in the world. There is very little government support. Zayed has started at a school for children with mental disabilities. He’s been there for a week for two hours a day and is struggling with separation anxiety and wanting to be there,” said Rasheeda.
While chatting, we asked how the future Chief Justice Shaheen is coping with his Law studies?
Rasheeda pipes up: “He’s doing his second year at the moment and driving us all bonkers. His preferred study method is lecturing us on his work and generally he just doesn’t shut up!” That sounds familiar again!
The Shaws have registered an NPO and are happy to receive any assistance and information in order to realise their dream of providing a brighter future for Zayed and other children like him.
Rasheeda may be contacted at email@example.com