Science is a very precise discipline. All phenomena have a scientific explanation and if anything or anybody defies science, scientists have terms such as ‘instinct’ and ‘evolution’ as possible explanations. Quadriplegic cerebral palsy is defined as, among others, “children with spastic or other forms of cerebral palsy who often face a lifetime of physical and emotional struggle” and, “Some people with cerebral palsy experience cognitive difficulty because the damage has affected multiple areas of the brain.”
What scientists do not give enough credit to is the resilient human spirit, a spirit that has proven time and time again to defy the scientific formula that is so convenient to explain phenomena. It would interest me greatly to know exactly how science will explain the fighting spirit of Monique Peres, who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and who has passed her second board exam and will qualify at the end of the year as a chartered accountant in spite of the odds being stacked against her.
One might think this is a miracle, which is also a term outside of scientific jargon. For 27-year-old Monique it was sheer hard work, determination, focus and a strong and positive mind.
“My disability has not held me back from achieving what I want out of life. You should be strong and motivated and do everything possible to reach for your dreams. I believe that my life has no limits. Take responsibility for your lives. Never give up on yourself. I consider myself a winner,” she says.
Monique attended a special school (Forest Town School) for ten years where she learnt to ride a bike, swim and to throw shot put and javelin, enjoy art, read and write. She was also attracted to computers. She used this to communicate with family and friends and became adept at using social media. When she was 13 years old, she entered a web design competition and won a special award. The theme was ‘Disabled persons in the new millennium’ and as her result of the award she attended the 3rd World Summit on Media for Kids in Greece in 2001.
At school two teachers made a marked impression on her. Nicky Shepherd, who was her Grade 6 teacher, became a friend and mentor. They still keep in contact and regularly spend quality time together.
During the high school phase a good accountancy teacher was Mr Rautenbach, who also made an impression on Monique and encouraged her to follow her dream of becoming a chartered accountant.
The journey was interesting, but very tough. High school was one of the huge challenges, especially during the difficult teen years. But Monique matriculated at Hope School in Westcliff with four distinctions: biology, English, accounting and home economics. She was also the Top Disabled Student in Gauteng in 2006.
“I was Top Disabled Student and LSEN [Learners with Specialised Education Needs] student in Gauteng. I was also given the recognition of an academic achievement award by the Portuguese Consulate in South Africa for my matric results.”
Next came the matter of choices and a career path, a phenomenon that most people like herself would not have achieved in the first place.
“Accounting is my passion. I was very fortunate to meet Henk Heymans in 2007 and he made a huge impact on my life, and more importantly, on my career choice. My scribe during my matric year was his sister-in-law and she told him all about me. He got involved and he has assisted me tremendously. He was largely instrumental in getting me various interviews for my articles. Henk is from ProBeta which focuses on accountancy development in South Africa. Basically, they are involved in training accountants. I pursued my studies at Unisa through correspondence. Auditing proved to be a major stumbling block for me. In spite of this, I completed my BCompt degree with an accounting distinction in 2010. The sad part is that I lost my dad during my third year of studies. He battled with Alzheimer’s for six years and passed away at the age of 74. It was a difficult time for me. CTA was a fulfilling year for me and I passed with distinction in financial accounting and tax.”
Henk Heymans says: ”It was the greatest privilege imaginable to be involved in a success story such as Monique’s. We still don’t think our contribution to Monique’s journey was particularly special, but it just proves that we should never underestimate the effect we have on the lives of those around us. We are so proud of the progress Monique has made, but I think all of us around her grew even more than Monique herself has through this process. And I have a distinct feeling this is just the beginning of much bigger things to come …”
Monique was ranked number 6 overall (of some 4 000 students) by Unisa and was declared the joint top tax student in 2011. During CTA she joined FLB campus and attended classes.
Monique’s mum, the sole breadwinner, drove from Parktown to Edenvale to fetch her and then drove to Randburg where Monique attended lectures from 6 to 10 in the evenings – two nights a week and sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays. Her mom, Bernadette, was a pillar of strength for Monique. Apart from driving her, she also sat in on her lectures (sometimes six hours long) and helped her to highlight important aspects of the class and took down notes.
“I studied 16 hours a day for seven days a week and there was no time to have a life. Unisa provided support which was prompted by my mom. Normal students wrote for three hours and I wrote for six hours with a Unisa-appointed scribe. I dictated to the scribe for six hours, for eight exams and at the end of all that I lost my voice for two weeks!
“Writing my exams was a huge challenge for me. I had to dictate to the scribe, who had to try and understand my speech. I was given extra time to get through the exams. My mind was always in two modes – one to answer the question and the other how to dictate the answer! Try dictating journals to a scribe who has no knowledge of accounting!”
In January 2012 she wrote the first board exam and passed.
“SAICA was very accommodating to me. SAICA allowed me to dictate my exams.”
The SAICA examination consists of four papers each of three hours’ duration and written over two days. Monique wrote over four days and for eight hours a day and she passed. The examinations are tough and many ‘normal’ candidates do not pass the first time round.
“I am currently serving my articles at Discovery. The environment is great and the people at Discovery are awesome. I am ready for many new challenges.”
She is bent on specialising in tax and working at Discovery affords her the opportunity of getting familiar with all the entity’s business processes and gives her the freedom to follow her passion.
“Discovery is all about making a difference. I enjoy motivating other people, sharing experiences and developing my career. I enjoy the culture at Discovery. It is innovative and I am able to make a difference in many ways. I relish in the culture of making a difference. The people are amazing and the work environment is great. It is liberating for me.”
Her supervisor, Fikile, at Discovery says: “Monique is an asset to the Discovery CA training programme. She is a diligent, compassionate and hard-working individual who is well respected by her peers and seniors. She has inspired all of us to rise above our different personal circumstances in order to achieve our dreams.”
Chief Financial Officer at Discovery Brett Tromp says:
“If you want a living example of inspiration, you have to look no further than Monique. She has so much more to overcome on a daily basis, yet she always arrives at work with a massive smile and produces work of the highest standard. Monique is a person who lives the Discovery values each day and is an example to all of us at Discovery what a person with a vision and dream can achieve no matter what the odds. The future for her never looked brighter and I am so grateful Discovery has been part of her journey so far.”
When Monique is not focused on tax and financial accounting, she enjoys a good movie, an absorbing book, scrapbooking, swimming and socialising with friends and family. She also loves travelling and visited Mauritius for a week early last year. A memorable experience for her was when she travelled to Portugal with her parents in 2004 (when she was 17) to meet members of her extended family.
Although Monique uses a wheelchair, she does not see this contraption as a hindrance. Instead, she sees it as a means to expending the vast reserves of energy that she exudes. Her message and outlook is crystal clear – Seize the day – Carpe Diem! ❐
Watch Monique’s interview on YouTube:
Author: Yuven Gounden; Photography: BrightLiquidLight