Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
SHE is 44 years old and graduated with a diploma in education specialising in Early Childhood Development (ECD) from Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Teachers’ College in Gwanda in 2018.
Naturally, Mrs Nokuthaba Mahlangu could have joined thousands of job-hunting graduate teachers or could be employed at one of the public or private schools.
However, she chose a different route and opened her own infants’ school targeting mostly underprivileged kids whose parents are struggling to pay fees.
Some of the kids had dropped out of school while others were yet to start formal learning because of lack of money but Mrs Mahlangu’s Little Lilies Day Care and Pre-School has taken them aboard so they don’t miss out on education.
The kindergarten institution, located in Mkhosana suburb, Victoria Falls where it’s renting two adjoining houses, employs eight teachers who recently graduated and are waiting to be employed in the mainstream civil service.
Mrs Mahlangu opened the school in January 2019 with six pioneer kids and Blessing Chinwadzima was the first pupil to enrol.
There are about 90 learners ranging from pre-scholars up to Grade Two but Mrs Mahlangu wants the school to grow until it gets to Grade Seven.
On May 25, the school joined the rest of the continent in celebrating Africa Day through a colourful event where all learners and teachers were dressed in African attire while being served traditional foods.
Even the décor was purely African with wooden table mats and flower pots while the food comprised of umxhanxa, inkobe, roasted nuts, pumpkins, wild fruits such as umviyo, umnyiyi, umkhomo, sweet potatoes, isitshwala with dried vegetables, and itshakada mixed with cow peas and groundnuts.
The children took turns to recite poems praising the motherland while the school honoured Blessing for being the pioneer pupil and had the honour of being the first to taste a cake when Mrs Mahlangu and senior teacher Ms Nelly Patrice Tabwa knelt before her to feed her a slice of the cake.
Mrs Mahlangu said the pain of seeing underprivileged children missing out on their life potential because parents have no school fees inspired her to open the school which operates as an annex of Mkhosana SDA Primary School.
She says she is a visionary who has a passion for children especially those who are less-privileged and orphaned.
“Because of upbringing, some parents don’t have money to send their children to school or buy uniforms. We have more than 20 who are not paying fees or buying uniforms for themselves and it is the school doing that for them here. We value product more than profit as we are not a profit-making organisation but we are for our community. I believe that God is using this place to groom responsible kids,” said Mrs Mahlangu.
Before enrolling with JM Nkomo college, Mrs Mahlangu worked for Victoria Falls City Council in different departments for 10 years before getting a job as a till operator at OK Supermarket. She also worked as a relief teacher at four primary schools in Victoria Falls before getting a place for college.
As a student, she would gather children and teach them at her house during holidays until January 2019 when she formally opened the school.
The school was registered with the Social Welfare Department and Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education as an annex of Mkhosana SDA.
Mrs Mahlangu and her family moved out of their house to pave way for the school and they are renting elsewhere in the suburb.
She is however, grateful for the support she is getting from her husband and family but appealed to the corporate world to chip in.
“Our vision is to get to Grade Seven. We have applied for land from council and as we wait for allocation, they have given us a five-year lease for an open space which we will be using as a play centre. We can’t use it for now because we are still trying to raise money for a fence so that the kids are safe,” said Mrs Mahlangu.
“I wish I could get support from the community. We want to convert the playroom into a classroom and move the kids to the play centre because we want to start a Grade Three class next year. This is my idea of giving back to the Victoria Falls community because we have kids from poor families who need community support.”
Each child pays US$10 per month while those from underprivileged families learn for free.
Leading tourism and hotel operator Love for Africa donated toys for every child at the school.
Mrs Mahlangu said the school seeks to impart values and pride in the children despite their poor background, hence a colourful Africa Day event.
“As Little Lilies we said yes, there is Covid-19 but such an important day like Africa Day cannot just go as it an opportunity to teach these kids on the importance of being an African. We want to catch them young and make them understand that there is more to Africa than the negatives that people say out there.
“We want to teach them to believe in themselves and be proud of themselves. We see a lot of people bleaching or doing plastic surgery, these are examples of lack of confidence and pride. So today we are serving them traditional foods so they understand indigenous knowledge systems and values of being an African,” she said. — @ncubeleon.