By JULIA KINGHAN
Gwen Johnson is not a teacher. She is not a tutor. She is something in between and a little bit more. She is a mentor.
Seven years ago, Johnson started a business aimed at helping children with learning disabilities to develop more effective ways to manage their academics. She currently mentors over 28 high school children in Makhanda weekly, encouraging them to cope with their academic challenges and understand that their brains might work differently from other people’s, but not any less brilliantly.
Johnson sits comfortably in her open and sunny living room, with its sparkling clean counters, everything impeccably in place, and a steaming cup of tea in her hands as she explains why she does what she does. Quite unsurprisingly, it is personal and in the best way.
“My inspiration was my second son,” she says.
As a mother, Johnson struggled to find anyone with the qualifications to help her youngest son, who struggled with dyslexia and ADHD during high school. So she took it upon herself to become that expert and turned her attention towards getting a Master’s degree in education explicitly focused on the needs of young people with learning disabilities. Since then, she has been dedicated to helping them develop the social and academic skills they need to flourish.
And she doesn’t plan to stop there. Johnson’s ambition is to start a training academy for teachers from all over the country, for them to learn how to pass on these skills in everyday schools and to encourage new kinds of understanding, empathy and learning systems for neurodivergent children.
For now, Gwen Johnson makes the lives of a handful of local children a little bit brighter, and in the future, she intends to spread that brightness even further, one child at a time.