Pupils' colourful show helps teacher living with rare disease


Tinwald School pupils from room 4 with their teacher Clare Tomkinson. Photo: Supplied
Tinwald School pupils from room 4 with their teacher Clare Tomkinson. Photo: Supplied
Pupils from Tinwald School raised $584 for Rare Disease Day by wearing bright-coloured clothing to class.

It was the most the school had ever raised for one particular cause.

In New Zealand, six per cent of the population live with a rare disorder, including the school’s year 2 teacher Clare Tomkinson.

In 2021, Tomkinson was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, a condition causing sudden weakness in muscles on one side of the face.

In most cases, the weakness is temporary and will improve over time.

Tomkinson said she had been unable to get advice and support in New Zealand, as she struggled with a limited social life, suffered pain, and was self-conscious.

"I didn’t like other people seeing me, I was lucky that we were wearing masks in public.

"My droopy mouth was one of the things I was most conscious about,’’ she said.

"It meant quite a few months of not being able to close my eye. Lots of pain from even the slightest breeze, or sunshine.’’

She had three weeks off work, then returned four days a week for a year, with an eye patch.

She returned full-time from term 4 in 2022.

She said, although her face had improved, it was still not symmetrical.

"It’s only really last summer holidays that I’ve got back to normal with energy levels," she said.

The pupils had heard about her journey during school assembly. As an added incentive during Rare Disease Day on leap day, Tomkinson said she would have her photo taken with the class that raised the most money per child. Her Room 4 class won.

February 29 was chosen for Rare Disease Day as it was a rare day, but it is not rare to have a rare disorder.