|General Manager — Sparrow Schools Educational Trust|
I realised how important it was to educate the children in our country who were not able to access the open white schools of the time …
Jackie Gallagher founded Sparrow Schools in 1989 and, under her leadership, the organisation has remained committed in its mission to provide quality, holistic education for South African learners with cognitive disabilities and youths from disadvantaged backgrounds. Sparrow Schools has been a life-changing institution for its learners ever since it first took form, when the first four pupils gathered at a Saturday school in a church hall in Joubert Park. By 1992, it was officially established as Sparrow Saturday Morning School on Juta Street in Braamfontein. Through Gallagher’s persistent efforts Sparrow Schools has grown and now accommodates more than 20 teachers and 550 learners.
Gallagher has helped thousands of children over the past three decades, giving them access to opportunities they might have never had otherwise. Her foresight led her to found the Sparrow Schools Educational Trust as a non-profit organisation, so she is now assisted by a board of trustees in building educational projects and sourcing funding for current and future learners. Sparrow Schools has impacted immeasurably on South Africa’s economic wellbeing as well as that of the individual learners, allowing each of them to live full lives as independent, responsible, educated adults.
Gallagher’s visionary action towards breaking down barriers to education for disabled and disadvantaged children earned her the prestigious Presidential Award from Nelson Mandela on behalf of Sparrow Schools in 1997. It was the culmination of six years of work. “I realised how important it was to educate the children in our country who were not able to access the open white schools of the time … how important it was to build the bridge through education to heal our nation.” It was a sentiment Mandela evidently shared, as he came to visit Sparrow Schools again in 2004, a moment Gallagher fondly recollects.
To this day, she works tirelessly towards her dream of providing quality education for all South African children. Her advice to those that would follow in her footsteps is that one should always be teachable; find a mentor and let them guide you.
— Cayleigh Bright