Patience drives Mamello special needs centre

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Her love and passion for children, especially those with special needs, could not let her watch from the side-lines while their future was compromised. And it is the development and educational gap between regular and special needs children, especially in a classroom setting, that motivated and gave Kefuoe Nkuatsana the courage to start a school that not only accommodates children with special needs but also ensures that their educational needs are met.

Nkuatsana is a 34-year-old Mosotho woman who was born in Soweto, South Africa, but grew up in Lesotho, at Ha Rasetimela, Naleli. She is the founder and Director of Mamello School and Special Needs Centre, a special needs school which also takes in “normal” children.

Its aim is to strive for an inclusive education where all children, regardless of how they are, get quality education. She is recognised by her passion and love for kids and learners with special needs and her determination to see them progress in social and education life.

Life was never easy for Nkuatsana as she grew up in a very abusive family until the age of six when her mother took over and raised her and her brother as a single parent until 2009 when she passed on. Her mother’s death hit her and her brother hard as their shacky future became even more unclear; all they had was hope and trust in God that one day their names will be written in the stars too.

“After my mother’s death, everything changed, I still do not know how I managed my life back then. But as a believer in God, I guess He provided and still does because I am who I am and where I am because at the back of my mind I knew that He is with me all the way. “I learnt that nothing comes easy in life; you have to wait and be patient because in due time things will fall in place and believe me I am experiencing that right now,” she stated.

Nkuatsana’s favourite experience in her life journey is now when she has the opportunity to put smiles on children’s faces and on their families by providing them with care that can only be achieved through patience, determination and, above all, love for children. Having people put their children’s education in her hands is the highlight of her achievements, something she is very proud of.

“I am proud of myself as I have become one of those teachers in Lesotho in whom people have hope that one day our education system will change and be more inclusive,” she says with a smile. From 2017 to 2021, Nkuatsana worked as a teacher at Busy Bees English Medium where she learnt lot and her love for helping special learners grew. Her fire to make change as far as children’s education is concerned was ignited during her service at Busy Bee English Medium.

Before starting her own school in 2018, she discovered that there were still a few “normal” learners who needed extra help learning wise, as a result she decided to be a private tutor. Since then, she has helped learners from her work place and won many others from different schools. Her boss who showed her unfailing support allowed her to do the tuition on the school’s premises.

In 2020 during the dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic, she started home calls and zoom classes, then in June the same year, she had about 10 learners that she decided to teach from her place due to struggle to accommodate them all through house calls. “Then I fell pregnant, pregnant with Mamello School and Special Needs Centre. She is here now, she is a toddler, learning to stand on her two little feet. She has helped a few learners in the past year 2021 and now hoping to be one of the biggest special needs institutions in the country,” she says.

The school is located at Naleli, Ha Rasetimela, in Berea district and deals with learners with different difficulties and needs with intension to fill the huge gap seen and felt by special needs learners. Nkuatsana believes that as of now, the country’s education system offers little or no help to Learners with Special Education Needs (LSEN) pointing out that these learners are just mainstreamed in regular schools where teachers do not provide the necessary help or assistance.

With Mamello School and Special Needs Centre, she strives for inclusive education where she is going to give her full attention to addressing inequalities in the education system so that at some point in life, some of the children with special needs can be integrated into mainstream schools. “Our country’s education system is very slow, especially when it comes to LSEN. I say this because inclusive education in Lesotho is still facing threats such as poor perception of what inclusive education entails, slow development of policy on special education and poor development of educational resources to allow inclusive education.

“There is also issue of lack of understanding by teachers and educationists about what constitutes inclusive education,” Nkuatsana notes. As a special education teacher, she among others serves as an advocate for students with disabilities and special needs. She assesses learners’ skills and determines their educational needs and adapts to lessons on how to meet those needs.

Her role is also to provide instruction and support to learners with special needs or disabilities in the regular classroom and has ensured involvement of parents of learners with special needs with additional requirements in the educational processes of their children. Nkuatsana states that special needs schools are for learners who have challenges that interfere with their learning and her school is no exception.

She says her school provides support to LSEN, further explaining that school work is geared towards a child’s individual needs to ensure that teaching and assessment are matched to their styles of learning and strengths. The birth of Mamello School and Special Needs Centre is one big achievement Nkuatsana has and she prides herself in it. She believes children become what we are.

“If you provide love they will love back, if you give them hate, they hate back and if you fight they also fight back,” she notes. She says, more often than not, children react to how they are treated in their respective families, pointing out that a child who grows up in a loving family where their good behaviour is rewarded tends to be the ones who work hard in schools and outside of school.

This is because they know how it feels to be appreciated and rewarded while children who are always told that they are not good enough and not worthy of good things are not motivated to do better. She adds that life is just about survival, hence her vow to give all the love, support and appreciation to children despite their abilities.

Her love for children did not start now at her adult age because growing up she always felt and still feels more comfortable around children. Growing up, Nkuatsana wanted to be a social worker so that she could help children who were abandoned by their loved ones or are experiencing the impact of abuse in their respective families.

However, her dream took a little turn and she is now a dedicated special needs teacher, not only helping children abandoned by their loved ones, but also those with different learning difficulties hindering their progress in schools. As much as educational and developmental progress of children with special needs is achieved, Nkuatsana’s journey also has its own ups and downs.

Among others she faces the challenge of parents who want to see progress overnight. Nkuatsana explains that demanding progress overnight is a problem since dealing with special needs learners requires special attention and skills for them to progress. Working with a child who is taught according to their own style and pace is also a challenge because the teacher has to learn how they learn as they cannot learn how she teaches, she adds.

“Also, parents who are in denial about their child’s problem hinder the learning process of a child because here parents are a huge part and parcel of the child’s education,” she states. Apart from children’s education and development she is dedicated to, Nkuatsana has created job opportunities in the country, giving a helping hand towards reduction of increasing unemployment rate the country is experiencing.

In 2021, she was working on a part-time basis and had one teacher and a therapist. This year, she has four teachers whom she will be working with and by the look of things, there might be an addition of one or two teachers. There is also one handy man and a cleaner. Education wise, Nkuatsana completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). This is where she learnt the art of leadership, teamwork, critical thinking and patience.

With teamwork and leadership, she learnt how to interact effectively with other teachers during planning meetings of how to come up with best classroom practices for her learners. When working with learners, especially learners with special education needs, she explains that one needs to be very patient, hence the name school name MAMELLO. In five years to come Nkuatsana wants Mamello to be one of the biggest special needs schools offering quality education, with branches in the other parts of the country.

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