Search


In life, we get so much input. It is hard to keep up. One piece of advice that I got was to focus on my strengths. We are not meant to be great at everything, but we all have talent. At times we try to improve skills we don't have a passion and a knack for. Is this a wise use of our time?


In life, we never stop learning. Even skills we have a talent for can always be improved. If we don't sharpen these skills, we will lose them. I love public speaking, even though it is scary. Since relocating to Chester in the United Kingdom life has thrown me a few unexpected curve balls. Focussing on navigating these has kept me from working on my skills, my passion.


It was thus with great excitement that I attended a 5-day course at the College of Public Speaking. The College of Public Speaking. https://www.collegeofpublicspeaking.co.uk/



I learned so much, and now the end of the course, I can feel my confidence growing and my passion returning. The group of 13 students could not have been more diverse. Students came as far as Kuwait, India, Italy and Spain. We learned a lot from our facilitator, Vince and even more from each other. Each of us came with different expectations and different goals in mind, and yet we all left armed with our new tools of knowledge and a stronger belief in our ability.


This course could not have come at a better time for me. I have the privilege of sharing the stage with four sensational women. The event is facilitated by crunchytales.com, the online magazine for ladies celebrating their midlife journeys. Join us if you are near Chester on the evening of Thursday 26 October at Story House. Crunchy-tales at Story House https://www.storyhouse.com/event/crunchy-tales


When we grow in confidence, we feel more able to attempt the things that excite and scare you at the same time. For me, this was joining a running club. I am not fit, I don't look like or feel like an athlete, and of course, there is the small matter of not being able to see much. So many reasons not to... Sometimes you have to close your eyes and jump. I went for my first run with Chester Road Runners. https://chesterroadrunners.org.uk/ What a lovely bunch of mad people. Emma, whom I met at Chester Parkrun, was my guide. It was a first for her too. She was excellent — I underestimated my abilities. I managed to enjoy it. Next step? Continue doing this regularly.


"Nothing is impossible; impossible is nothing."


In 2006 with Sandy, my guide dog, we moved back to London. I needed to find a part-time job. As with Contiki, I had a dream to work for a very specific organization, Guide Dogs UK. I wanted to be part of the place that had changed my life and the lives of so many other blind people. I wanted to be part of their fundraising team and I was sure my passion would be my secret weapon in being successful in such a role.


Even before I departed for London, I started investigating the possibilities of working for Guide Dogs. Unfortunately, there were no vacancies and, for the time being, that dream had to be shelved. I was, however, determined to get a role in the charity sector that complemented the experience I gained in South Africa. I was very meticulous in recording each and every application I made over, what turned out to be a six-month, draining process which broke my confidence every step of the way.


It was a catch twenty-two. If I informed them in advance of my needs as a visually-impaired candidate, I would not get invited for an interview, if I didn’t, I was faced with numerous barriers when taking tests and completing tasks as part of the process.

I recall one application in particular. It was with a national charity for children with multisensory disabilities. I was very excited about this application. I knew the organization and respected them for the work they did. I had also done volunteer work for them in the past so I was no stranger to them. While completing the application, I was not shy about my needs and when the day of the interview arrived, I was excited and confident.


Upon arrival, I was asked to do a written task on a computer as part of the interview. I asked if I was allowed to enlarge the fonts on the screen and if the curtains could be closed to reduce the glare on the screen. My requests were denied. During the oral interview, I communicated my disappointment with the situation. I was told the test did not really matter but I believe the damage was done. Again, I was unsuccessful and again, never told why.


While this process continues, life did not stand still and bills had to be paid. I had no choice but to take any job I could find. It was during this time that London saw the war of the "free paper" begin. One of these was The London Paper. I got a job handing these out to commuters. 3000 within three hours to be exact. Me being me, I did not do anything halfway and made it my mission to do my job well. I was loud, friendly and, standing with my cane in the busy streets of London, became very good at what I did. A Kiwi working for the opposing paper across the street was not happy, as the better I got, the worse he did. When I turned my back, he would throw my trolley over, papers flying everywhere. During this mess, my team leader refused to assist me. She said she was too far away. A whole three blocks away. My next spot worked just as well, but a man selling the Big Issue then harassed me. The London Paper management was never interested in supporting me, so, after three months of giving out thousands of papers of which the ink came off and always left me a mess, I called it a day.


It had been six months since I had arrived in London and I decided to take my dream of working for Guide Dogs off the shelf, dust it off and give it another go. I hoped that if I volunteered for them in my spare time, I would be able to prove myself. I called and was invited to go into their Woodford office for an informal chat to see what volunteering opportunities might be available. I remember feeling ill that day and I almost canceled, but fortunately, decided not to in the end.



Upon arrival, I met with Nick and Devine who worked in the fundraising team. We had a lovely chat over tea and biscuits. I told them about the work I had done in South Africa, in particular, the Jailbreak. When we came to the end of our discussion, Nick asked me to wait in reception while they discussed a few things. When they called me back, Nick offered me a job, not a volunteering role, no, a paid job in the community fundraising team. I remember standing at Woodford station after they dropped me off. I kept my poise until then but then I let go, screaming, singing and dancing until my train arrived! Another dream come true.

Updated: Mar 23, 2019

I didn't pass the course and later also found out that the game farm where we had the program was not a registered provider. I should have seen that one coming.


My hunger for a career in tourism was still high. My next port of call was the airline industry. I enrolled at Birnam Business College in 1997 on a six months' course. On passing this course, one would have SAA fares 1, Galileo, and a Diploma in travel and tourism. My mom and I met with a representative of the college who firstly ensured me that the college could accommodate visually impaired students and then she guaranteed a career with an airline for the top students. By now I should have learned that promises like these often did not materialize. So focussed was I on my dream career that I chose to believe her.


The next six months was a great challenge. The study material was inaccessible because of the small text size. I used a magnifying glass, but it only hurt my eyes and didn't help much. The maps provided by IATA (The Institute of Approved Travel Agents) were of poor quality, and I was informed that we were not allowed to enlarge them or make darker copies. My hunger for this career path helped me to find solutions to these problems. I took each map and used felt-tipped pens to color each country a different color. I marked each river, each city, each mountain and each major tourist attraction. Then I used this little memory of mine to memorize each map. Come the exam; I would take my felt pens and color the map provided in as much detail as I could remember before answering the exam questions.


I aced it! I had an average of over 90%. I learned for the first time that if the "what" - your passion - is strong enough then the "how" becomes easy. My excitement, however, was short-lived. Every airline company that I applied to informed me:
“Insurance does not allow us to employ someone with a visual impairment, not even as ground staff.”


For the next year or two, I worked at places related to tourism. Working for the British Consulate and the British Embassy was rewarding. It also gave me great insight into, what was then known as, the two-year working holiday visa.

In 1998 I decided to use this visa to work and travel in the UK. I secured a job as an assistant manager at a hotel in Ambleside in The Lake District. A day after my arrival I was informed that the position was not for an assistant manager but a general assistant. That meant doing everything; from taking out the trash, cleaning the pots in the kitchen, cleaning rooms and waitressing at night. The boss turned out to be miserly beyond anything I have ever experienced. Of all my tasks, waitressing was the most difficult. Walking from a brightly lit kitchen to a dimly lit dining room meant that I often had minamal sight to use. The guests at the hotel were never happy with the blonde South African waitress taking the wrong orders to the wrong tables. Over the next month, my shifts became longer and longer, and the conditions worsened.


Come Easter weekend. I asked for one evening off.

"Sir, I have worked for nine days straight on double shifts. Please, can I have Sunday evening off to attend a religious event? It is the Lord's Memorial, the most important annual event of our faith."
"Don't make your issues mine!" he hissed. "It is Easter, no time off for anyone!" I packed my bag and left Mr. Greedy-boss man with one less staff member for the whole of the Easter holiday.


I managed to get a job at the Sunlight factory. The company cleaned workwear from other factories. My first task was to empty the pockets of the overalls from the jam factory before it went to the industrial washing machines. I found everything from bottle tops to used condoms. Never anything of worth except for the odd five pence.

At the beginning of summer, I decided to move to London. I stayed with my brother, Andre and his friend, Justin at first and later rented a room in a house in Beckenham. As long as one was not fussy and prepared to get one's hands dirty, there was always a job in London. At first, I signed up with several recruitment agencies to get temp work in an office environment.


My first call was for a receptionist post in Canary Wharf. I was so excited to get an opportunity at a large corporate. Upon arrival, I was given the extension list in order to direct incoming calls. It was printed in an extremely small font so I asked if I may use the photocopier to enlarge it. Although I had informed the agency of my visual impairment, they had not told the company where I was placed. I was not allowed to enlarge the list and that night I got a message from the agency not to return the next day. The reason remains a mystery until today.


For the next few weeks, I tried getting answers, but the agent who had placed me refused to take my calls, and they never offered me another opportunity.

For the next six months, I had too many jobs to mention. My favorite was a six-week temp job at the BBC, Radio Four, transcribing interviews with people who had been close to Frank Sinatra. They were happy with my work, and I often thought, "if only my typing teacher from grade nine could see me now!"


The rest of the jobs that I had during that time were far less glamorous. From doing laundry for an infirmary to a gardening job in an exclusive estate. The one position that stood out as the nightmare of them all was as an assistant in a sandwich shop and cafe on Beckenham high street. The work was hard, and the pay was minimum wage. This would have been fine, but the manageress was a cow, to say the least. She was never happy with any of my work or that of anyone else working in the cafe.


The pharmacist next door was a friend of hers and, one day, made a complaint against me. I was operating the till, and when I counted his change before handing it to him, he complained that I held the money too close to my face. I explained that, because of my visual impairment, I had to do so to ensure the amount was correct. He was not happy and complained to his friend, Mrs. Cow. I was told not to return the next day. The same man came back later that afternoon, and by then I knew I was not to return to the job. I was upset and thought "there must be a way to leave my mark."


Mr. Pedantic pharmacist ordered a spud with baked beans and a cup of tea to go. He drove a flashy little sports car with white, leather seats which he always parked in the disabled bay across the road. I prepared his order as usual, but this time with a small difference. I took a needle and made a couple of tiny holes at the bottom of his polystyrene cup and take-away holder. If all goes well, it won't start to leak until he is already in his car. I knew he would place the cup and takeaway on the passenger seat. I believe it worked. I never did witness the result of my scheme, but it did help to make me feel a little better.


I knew I was being treated unfairly, but I had no idea what to do about it. I'll never forget leaving the shop that day. While walking home, my left eye felt weird and, by evening, I could see nothing through that eye. By morning it seemed to have cleared up, but it never went back to normal. It was, and I remember crying myself to sleep that night. I did not know that that was the start of a downward spiral for my sight.


After returning from a holiday at home in South Africa, I again did many odd jobs. For a few months, I worked as an assistant at the infirmary where I did the laundry on Sundays. One of my favorite tasks was to take tea and biscuits to the residents. Each one was very particular as to how their cuppa was made. Although I endured some verbal abuse, one elderly, bedridden gentleman approved in no uncertain terms. One morning he took my hand and said,

“Darling, will you be mine?” In order not to upset him I replied,
“Maybe tomorrow,” thinking by then he would have forgotten. When I took his tea to him the next morning, he greeted me with the question, “Darling is today tomorrow?”


I had been in the UK for one year when I thought about that dream of mine, working for Contiki. I learned that their head office was located not far from where I lived in Bromley. I took a chance and phoned them asking if there were any vacancies at their head office. It just happened to be the start of the busy summer season, and a temp admin position was available in their operations department. I was interviewed the next day. During the interview, I explained that I was visually impaired. The manageress, Jo took one of the tour files and showed it to me asking,

"Will this be a problem?"
"Not as long as you don't mind my nose being buried in it!"

Jo laughed, and the job was mine. At the end of summer, my role was extended, and I ended up staying for a year.


This experience taught me a valuable lesson. You can have the career you want. It might take longer than expected but as long as you keep trying it will materialize. It is this wisdom that came in very handy later in my career.


© Copyright Theresa Robberts 2020