Perseverance Hadebe is the dynamic headmistress of King George VI in Bulawayo. This school is a revolutionary school that for 60 years has continued to break new grounds by providing a sterling education for learners and children in Zimbabwe with disabilities from kindergarten to the fourth form.
She is also a pastor at Apostolic Church Of Pentecost, which was founded 68 years ago as one of the first Pentecostal churches in Zimbabwe. In this interview, we learn more about her passion for education.
Where did you get your passion for special education?
During my training to become a teacher, I requested a post at Sir Humphrey Gibbs, a local special school. It was then that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I find special needs learners very inspiring.
It is so satisfying to see someone who at face value seems incapable of so many things and watch them grow from strength to strength and exceed all expectations. I have always been drawn to the downtrodden, the unwanted and the unloved.
At church as a pastor, I find myself reaching out to the disadvantaged there as well. I want to help them improve their lives and become successful in their own right.
What do you want people to understand about those who are different?
I want people first and foremost to look at them and see them as complete. They must be respected, loved and appreciated. We must look at them as equals and not assume we know better than them how things ought to be done. I would like people to give them a listening ear, really hear what they have to say, truly you’ll be amazed!
How do you keep the children of KGVI feeling empowered and confident in themselves?
We encourage and believe in them. We give them the opportunity to do various activities like drama and public speaking. In addition, we put a strong emphasis on how they should present themselves and how they should be groomed.
We even have slogans like- “Given an opportunity, what must we do?!” “We must take the shot!”
Why does KGVI have an inclusive policy?
We are an inclusive school. We have the physically challenged, deaf and non-disabled, with most of our non-disabled being vulnerable learners. Most of them have sad backgrounds and we feel they fit in extremely well here as the ethos of the school is one of respect and acceptance.
For example, I taught a little boy in kindergarten once who went home after his first day of school and asked for a ‘pram’. He didn’t realize his fellow pupils were disabled and in wheelchairs, he just wanted to fit in and be like his friends!
It would certainly be gratifying if the mainstream schools included children with special needs. However, it would need careful consideration and planning. Teachers and heads need to be well equipped to deal with the demands of special education. As children inherently lack prejudice, they can be taught to appreciate everyone from the beginning through inclusive education.
What setbacks have you faced while running the school?
We have limited resources. A number of parents are struggling to pay school fees (primary is $92 a term and secondary it’s $102.) The demands of a special school are diverse and the failure to pay school fees severely affects the smooth running of the school.
From simple things like detergents to keep the toilets clean, to the specific education materials needed to support our learners, there is a lot that is needed!
Do you feel the government is supportive enough of special education?
To a great extent, the government is supportive. They pay teachers and a huge number of our auxiliary stuff for which we are grateful. I would suggest that they take some time to come here to give themselves the opportunity to be able to identify our other needs and to see how they can best continue to support us.
As citizens, we can also do more to be supportive and inclusive. There are lots to be done to help the school and so we can’t rely on the government alone. Everything from sponsoring a student, to buying school uniforms or even donating food for the pupils will be appreciated.
What do you want every child to leave KGVI believing about themselves?
Our motto is never to give up! I want them to never give up on themselves; they must believe in themselves and know that they can do anything as long as they don’t give up. We make sure to equip them with various skills so they can earn a living.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the children?
I have learned that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God and that they are gifted in a manner which sometimes blows my mind. I remember once we had a brilliant student, she didn’t have her upper limbs so she used her foot for everything.
One time I walked into a fashion and fabrics class and she was threading a needle with her foot! I really saluted her that day. I was very impressed!
Ultimately what is your vision for KGVI? What do you want its legacy to be?
I would like us to expand to include a tertiary college. This would not only be a crucial complement to what we already teach but would also provide necessary employment opportunities for many of our students. I would also like to partner with companies and organizations that can engage our students after they are done being educated here.
Name an African woman (past/present) whom you admire. Why?
My provincial education director, Mrs. Kiara. Starting out as a primary school teacher, I really respect how she rose through the ranks. She is my mentor and she has to lead us exceptionally in the province.
I also love Maureen Shana, co-founder of World of Life Fellowship Church. I like her creativity and the way she comes up with unique projects such as Woman Unlimited which is an organization that builds women to be who God intended them to be.
What do you think the world needs more of?
Without a doubt, exceptional female leadership! Women who lead with integrity, excellent morals, and humility.
What is your proudest moment as the head?
My proudest moment so far was when our own Liyana band won an Oscar in 2010 for the best short documentary! It was a sterling performance and a very special moment for me.
How do you balance your two vocations being a pastor and being headmistress of KGVI?
As a leader, I try to lead an integrated life. I don’t have a life as a pastor and another as the head of KGVI. What I do is to play both roles wherever I am. While I am heading KGVI I am doing pastoral work because I deal with people with unique needs and have to help them to the best of my ability.
On the other side while as a pastor I draw from my leadership experiences at KGVI and apply them in assisting my church. I am grateful that God gives me the grace and wisdom to balance both roles with ease.
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