Thanks to the generosity of the community, 10-year-old Toby Matthews has had his dream trip to Africa – and he may get a ride in a firetruck and a chance to see a tiger, too.
Toby is deaf and learned last year he is also going blind, because of an incurable genetic condition.
After Toby’s story was published in The Star, more than $16,000 was donated online to help his family give him experiences before he loses his vision.
It meant he was able to travel to Africa last month with his father, builder Logan Matthews, where they helped to build a school in Zimbabwe.
Mr Matthews said Toby had loved the animals most of all.
“We saw an elephant riding expert on the side of the road, and I knew that was us. So he rode an elephant for an hour, and then he got to interact and play with it. I think that was his highlight,” he said.
He said the goal of the trip was both to give Toby visual experiences he could remember, and to help other people.
As well as building classrooms at the school, he said they built shelves for the children’s books, which had previously had to sit on the ground, and brought a lot of school supplies with them.
Because Toby’s condition, Usher syndrome, is so rare, he said the family did not know how long Toby’s vision might last.
He was born deaf, but his vision was slowly tunnelling, with the area he could see growing progressively smaller, and there was no known way to reverse it.
He said the family planned to head to Auckland next month for thorough testing to see how it was progressing.
Mr Matthews said Toby had been struggling to come to terms with things he could not do, and the trip to Africa had meant a lot to him.
“He was getting quite angry and frustrated before he left, but since he has come home he’s had quite a different temperament. It was a real morale boost,” he said.
And Toby has had more dreams made possible since he returned.
He said he wanted to see a tiger on the trip, but that was very unlikely as tigers are native to Asia. But since he has returned, the family has been donated a 12-month pass to Orana Wildlife Park – meaning Toby will be able to see tigers.
He said the family had also been given a trip on the
TranzAlpine train, and firefighters had offered Toby tours of their fire stations.
Toby wanted to be a firefighter, but his failing vision means that is likely to be impossible.
Mr Matthews said the help from the community had been incredible.
“When I showed Toby how many people had given, he was blown away by how many
people cared about him,” he said.