Lending a helping hand for children with special needs

Lending a helping hand for children with special needs

Good Morning Angels assisted the Green Leaves Centre with R50,000 towards a trampoline, equipment, and other needs to improve the lives of the special children in their care.

Green Leaves Children

Marli Pennells turns five next month. Her mom, Liezel, calls her their Rainbow Baby and Hero. Marli was diagnosed with Level 3 Autism. 

"She is non-verbal, yet her love for life screams louder than any words ever could. Marli steals hearts wherever she goes as she is love and she is light," says Liezel.

It also means that the family has had many challenges in finding the right treatment, assistance, and care for Marli, as both parents work to afford everything Marli needs. The Pennells family live in Louis Trichardt in Limpopo, where there are no schools for children with Marli’s needs.

READ: Helping the Van Dyk Park CPI to assist their community

Liezel and her husband, Donovan, considered moving, driving 200km a day to take Marli to a school in a nearby town - and then they found the Green Leaves Centre in their town.

The Centre was started by a lifelong Early Childhood Educator and acting principal, Lilla Shaw. She realised the need for children with special needs in her town, took a leap of faith, and opened the centre last year. She relies on tuition fees to manage everything. The children at the centre need special stimulation, routine, food, and care - which carries an extra cost.

They need a netted trampoline to help with gross motor development and other equipment for their recreational area… and that’s why Liezel reached out for assistance on Green Leaves Centre’s behalf.  

REQUEST FOR:  Lilla Shaw and the Green Leaves Academic Wellness Tutor Centre 

REQUEST FROM: Liezel Pennells, Marli's Mommy 

ANGEL: The Good Morning Angels Fund NPC

READ: Helping the Van Dyk Park CPI to assist their community

SPONSORING: The Good Morning Angels Fund will assist the Green Leaves Centre with R50,000 towards a trampoline, equipment, and other needs to improve the lives of the special children in their care


Dear Good Morning Angels

I am Liezel Pennells. I have been a resident of Louis Trichardt for the past 10 years. Married to Donovan Pennells, and together, we have a beautiful daughter, Marli. She is our rainbow baby, turning 5 in April 2024. 

Marli is autistic (Level 3 - severely autistic). She is non-verbal, yet her love for life screams louder than any words ever could. Marli steals hearts wherever she goes as she is love and she is light. She is my hero.

Marli has been going to a day caregiver (Linda) for the past 4 and a half years. She has been right by our side through quite a lot. We love her and her family dearly. Marli is growing older and we knew we had to start looking for a school for her. We feel very strong about the fact that Marli, too deserves to learn and grow, to thrive in life and not to just exist. She is our whole world and we were ready to do what we had to do.

My husband and I considered moving away from Louis Trichardt as there are no special needs schools in town. The closest school is approximately 100km from us and although we tried to figure out a way to get her to that school, no plan seemed to realise. 

You see, with a special needs child comes a great deal of additional care and expenses, as autism does not just stop with the word or diagnosis. The travelling fees would be impossible for us to cover, thus I would have to give up my job to travel with Marli to school and back, which was and still is impossible for us. A special needs child like Marli, requires chronic medication for various conditions that go hand in hand with autism. For instance, Marli has low muscle tone and because of this she has severe reflux, she has allergies, she has Malignant Hyperthermia, severe sinus, severe anxiety, she has sensory processing disorder and thus she is also a very picky eater. Marli receives Occupational Therapy. Unfortunately medical aids in South Africa do not cover much under the umbrella for autism as it is not considered PMB. 

We had the opportunity to move to another town, unfortunately the school that we had hoped for Marli to go to, had to close down their pre-school and no longer catered for kids that are non-verbal and / or still wearing diapers... thus it was a triple NO for us. 

If I have to be brutally honest, I did not expect much going there, as we are quite used to having doors closed in our faces and confronted with people who simply do not know what autism is. At first I got angry, now I take the opportunity to advocate for my daughter, for autism. 

I came across Lilla  Shaw (owner of Green Leaves Academic Wellness) via a friend who's daughter is a pupil at the Tutor Centre as well. This was after we had decided to stay in Louis Trichardt. We immediately made an appointment, which lasted two hours! I threw everything at her - all the bad, the good, the challenging and the fears we had. Lilla of course had the perfect plan and solution for everything. We enrolled Marli for a trial period of 2 weeks during December 2023 to see how it goes and if she would adapt to her new surroundings. She LOVED it. We were over the moon and we are still in awe of the fact that Marli is doing so well with so much change. We had moved to another house just prior to the trial period at the centre, to save some money in order to pay for the tutor centre should Marli adapt and be able to go there. 

Marli has severe anxiety. On the 5th of January 2024 she got startled which spiked her anxiety which led her to have severe meltdowns for over a month. The Tutor Centre opened early in order to be of more assistance with children that required additional assistance. With her day caregiver and Lilla on board, they assisted us by taking care of Marli even in the most difficult circumstances.  Marli started her year on a very low note, but never once was it too much for the people who I now call my village. 

The centre is growing. When Marli started there in December 2024, Lilla had 6 kids, which have now have grown to be 8, soon to be 9 kids. 

I was mesmerised by the way Lilla and her team just took Marli in and to see them grow with her is my biggest dream come true. Marli is thriving and learning so much and with this she is so happy. 

I know that the centre depends on tutor fees to be paid by parents, and I also know that not all parents can make these payments timeously. Some parents just don't make payments. Unfortunately the centre and Lilla suffer due to that. 

I wanted to give back in some way, although I am not in a position to do so financially whatsoever, I wanted to make a difference in some way. Thus, I decided to get some donations to improve the playground. As Lilla is renting the house where she lives and runs the centre from, there is only so much one can do. I managed to get old tyres, paving stones, some paint and a small playground set, some sand and an old tank for a sandpit. I wish you could see the joy on the kids' faces while being in the sandpit and the lines they form for a turn to go down the slide.  

Every child at this centre has a story. A reason for not being able to be in a mainstream school. This is it for my daughter. She is welcome there, she is accepted and accommodated and most of all she is loved. I am a very proud mother of my autistic child and I advocate as much as possible. For me to see all this happening is surreal. 

I want each child that doesn't fit in the "normal" box to know that they are unique, special, worthy, nothing less and so loved. My dream is that they have somewhere to go to where they can be, who they are and learn at their pace whilst being treated with respect and love. Green Leaves Academic Wellness has given me hope, they give hope to our family and to many others. They are hope for our town.  Lilla is a remarkable woman and gives her all every single day. The joy on her face when the kids get something right or learn something new is just so genuine, special and quite contagious. She is alway willing to do more, to learn more and nothing is too much for her or her team. 

Best of all is the motto of Green Leaves Academic Wellness is "RISE AND THRIVE". We as a family did rise and now our daughter is thriving. 

From my side I just want to thank everyone involved for the opportunity to tell you our story.  April 2nd is world AUTISM AWARENESS day which makes this even more special for me and my family. 

Please let me know if there is anything else that I can do from my side to be of assistance. 

Kind regards, 

Liezel Pennells (Marli's Mommy) 

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