IF there is any way to describe Zimbabwe’s only visually impaired school head, Rosewitta Mudarikwa (46), go-getter sums it up. She has stood her own in the sector and now heads Mushandike High School in Masvingo and two satellite secondary schools —Mukonde and Zvehuru. She also headed
Mudadisi Primary School in Chivi.
She is known not because of her visual impairment, but of being a powerful, hardworking and good leader.
She is also testimony of how family support, especially by males, opens many doors of success for disabled people.
Mudarikwa joined Mushandike Secondary School in 2005 at a time the school’s buildings were substandard.
“Classrooms did not have verandahs; our administration block did not meet education standard plans and so forth.
“Maybe it was so because they did not have resources and they would just reduce the size of the buildings,” she said.
Mushandike High has an enrolment of 425 students and offers classes from Form One to Upper Six.
“Our Upper Six classes are small because we are close to town and most students opt to go to boarding school.
“We mainly accommodate those who cannot afford paying high fees in boarding school.
“O-Level passes stagger a bit because we take everyone on board. If children are from the school’s catchment area, their entry into the school is automatic,” she revealed.
For monitoring purposes, she regularly travels to the satellite schools whose day-to-day running is managed by teachers in charge.
According to Mudarikwa, monitoring teachers is not a big task though she always finds one or two stubborn ones.
“What is important is to always monitor and have checks and balances to ensure that things are done the way you want.
“It becomes easy to monitor as I work closely with my deputy and senior teachers and heads of departments. I also closely work with teachers-in-charge at the satellite schools,” she revealed.
Added Mudarikwa: “I formed an academic board comprising heads of departments. We discuss what should be done and agree on what to look for during lesson observations and inspection of exercise books.
“It is never a bed of roses; you will always have people who want to get away with mischief especially when it comes to punctuality.
“Some people will come late and log time as if they were early, or they leave early and log like they left at dismissing time. I just check everything.”
She said first impressions on the community and teaching staff was critical.
“In Chivi, I enjoyed the support of my superiors who told me that I would have failed them as a district if I did not do well. They were 100 percent behind me.
“Each time they would check on how I was faring. Masvingo provincial education office was difficult. I think it’s because of the proximity of the school to town and the main road.
“In most cases, some people at the district and provincial education offices with relatives who could not get teaching places in town would try to bring them here even if they are not good enough.
“If you have difficult and try to stop them, they would victimise you,” she complained.
Mudarikwa says she has a supportive district education officer.
“Sometimes I had endure education officers who even want to run the school and come to address and deal with my staff without my knowledge.
“Maybe because I am an activist, I know that these are just attitudes. I am not offended but try to manage such.
“Being the only visually impaired head in the country, it is difficult to get support of teachers with my similar condition as they are not amused that I was promoted first,” added Mudarikwa.
She said economic hardships and donor fatigue have made mobilisation for resources difficult.
The school now depends on a tuckshop, poultry project and provides photocopying, typing and printing services.
Mudarikwa said that although she is entitled to an aide, she does not need one at all times during work since the nature of her job is highly confidential.
“I would not discuss matters to do with staff in the presence of an aide. I normally have one who drives me to work, assist with formatting of documents on the computer without so much interference with the contents, and assist when I want to go to town to visit certain offices.
“I manage very well, and right now I do not have any challenge when going for class observations,” she added.
Mudarikwa knows all 27 teachers she works with and identifies them through different ways.
“I used to teach classes as big as 50 pupils and still I could recognise each student.
“So recognising 27 teachers is much easier, as I know their voices, perfumes, lotions, footsteps. Sometimes I do not disclose how I recognise them because someone may not like what I will say,” she explained.
Born on June 16, 1956 in Takawira district, Chirumanzu, Mudarikwa is the fifth child and the only girl in a family of seven.
She lost her sight after contracting a disease during her early childhood.
“Though the health officials were not sure of the cause of my blindness, I was told that I had measles,” she said.
Mudarikwa’s father, who is her inspiration, worked as a clerk in the district administrator’s office.
“He retired and became a peasant farmer till his death. He was a loving father and struggled to send me to school despite my ailment. My mother was not employed,” she said.
She was enrolled at a preschool in Mvuma as it integrated both able-bodied and children with disabilities.
“In November 1970, my father decided to enrol me at Capota School for the Blind. I was still underage when I got there and had to return to the compound,” she said.
The following year, Mudarikwa’s father — who was determined to see her educated — altered her birth certificate so that she would be accepted into school.
It worked and she was accepted and did her primary education at Capota.
“I remember my father was not happy with my staying away from the family at that age because I was still very young. He tried to look for a school somewhere near our home. He even tried to enrol me at Jairos Jiri, Gweru, but I think he later developed an attitude about the institution, so I remained at Capota,” she said.
After completing Grade Seven at Capota in 1976, I enrolled at Waddilove High School in Marondera.
“My father was happy because there was an integration system at Waddilove. Disabled students had a recess unit where we would operate from but learnt with everyone else in the classroom,” she added.
After O-Level she attempted to enrol as a teacher but training colleges would not take her even with her amended documents. They maintained she was still too young.
She had no option but proceed to A-Level at Gokomere High.
“Chisipite Girls High wanted me for A-Level, but I hesitated because I knew they had not dealt with anyone with visual impairment. I opted for Gokomere who I knew had experience of handling students like me and completed A-Level in 1982,” she said.
After A-Level, she worked as a receptionist for the Public Service Medical Aid Society for three months before enrolling at the University of Zimbabwe where she did her bachelor’s degree in English, Political Economy and History.
“During the holidays, students would also go and work as temporary teachers but I would join the eye unit at Sekuru Kaguvi Hospital.
“I would do reception work. I joined a bowling team, though it was boring for me. I thought bowling was too slow and for older people, but I did that just to pass time. I would work in the morning and go to Harare Sports Club later,” she added.
Upon completing her studies, Mudarikwa taught English at Girls High School in Harare between 1986
She also joined the UZ’s Faculty in Education Department to study for a Graduate Certificate of Education. Afterwards she did small courses in management and computers.
“I married and moved from Harare to Masvingo.
“Between 1998 and 1999 I studied special education at the United College of Education.
“I went to another school and by then I was an adult and discovered that there are more challenges for a learner with visual impairments,” she said.
Mudarikwa learnt that teachers of children with visual impairments could not communicate with students because they did not know Braille.
“The kind of typing they taught them was not useful for the learner.
“Teachers should know Braille to be able to teach someone how to type. Braille has its own rules and regulations that are different from what is normally in the print.
“I found that they had good English teachers who unfortunately did not have any knowledge of Braille and this affected their pass rates,” she said.
Her first pass rate for English at the new school was 32 percent.
“I was disappointed because I thought I would get a pass rate of 100 percent, something I was used to at Girls High.
“I was demoralised and wanted to transfer but I decided to stay since I was now a family person,” she added.
The other challenge included too many mistakes that arose when students wrote exams in Braille and teachers would transcribe into ink print.
“It would be a combination of mistakes made by the candidate and those made by the transcriber.
“The teachers would get one of the visually impaired students to read for them while they write.
“If a reader gave them the wrong information they would transcribe it that way and in some instances, some information would be left out.
“The result would be disastrous,” she bemoaned.
After complaining to the head, they agreed to proofread the transcribed version and see if it is as close as possible to the Braille version.
Following the change, results improved and authorities at the school endorsed her suggestion.
She said she would also transcribe for Zimsec though she was not paid. Zimsec would only pay markers and leave out transcribers.
When she started transcribing her subject’s answer scripts, the pass rate started to improve, going up to 90 percent.
“I was happy and stayed a little bit longer. Because of experience and also my level of education, I became senior woman, and also head of department.
“I applied when they advertised posts for deputy head and got the job. The challenge was going into a community that had not been sensitised on how to work with people with disabilities,” she said.
Later on she applied for any open school head post.
She then became the head of Mudadisi School in Chivi.
“The school is quite big and when I got there it had just been destroyed by Cyclone Eline and I had to do the reconstruction and electrification with no resources.
“I was innovative and started projects that included agriculture. We would sell our produce to the surrounding market. We also opened a school tuckshop and tried to get commodities like sugar that were in short supply,” she added.
She said they repaired most of the damaged buildings and electrified 16 teachers’ houses.
“I had the support of the SDC and everyone else. Maybe they had their own suspicions and wanted to see how I would manage,” she revealed.
Her next call was Mushandike High School.
Mudarikwa lives in Mucheke, Masvingo, with her husband and four children — Wadzanai (22), Tapiwa and Munyaradzi (both 19), and Tinotenda (16).
Her husband, a former teacher, has low vision and works for an organisation of people with visual impairments.
If hard work and success are the food of life, then Mudarikwa is clearly enjoying her fair share.