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A true leader makes a difference in the lives of others

This is a story of pupils in a dilapidated school in a poor rural village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province.  A school consisting of three wooden classrooms without water, electricity, a library or a laboratory.  Yet, 100% of their pupils passed matric (graduated from High School/Grade 12).
It all started with one woman: Principal Lumka Mhlaba who, with her enthusiasm and determination, changed the way the pupils and the community approach education.  When she started, the school had a 23% pass rate, and three years later, 19 out of 21 pupils who wrote matric, qualified for a university education, some with an A aggregate.

How did she do it?  
•    Lumka encouraged the community and parents to be involved in the school.  Parents can come to the classrooms during schooltime and check on their children.  She had a vision, and she sold her vision to the community and received their support.  Although the thought of having parents in and out of the classroom would make most principals and teachers shudder, Lumka realised that the problems faced by the children are not just their own, but part of a larger societal and cultural problem.  In rural communities many parents are illiterate and uneducated, and want their children to work on the land rather than go to school. The community leaders are powerful in these communities, and any new initiative requires their support.  Lumka realised that the only way she can change the culture of underperformance and lack of discipline, was to get the buy-in and support from the parents and community leaders.  She invited them into the school so they can see what happens there and sometimes even asked their assistance in disciplinary matters.  She tackles the culture of the larger community and got parents to see education as a positive for their children.  A huge achievement in itself!

•    She instilled a positive attitude in the children, helped them believe in themselves and the possibilities that exist. She kept reminding them of the goal ahead of them and gave them purpose and belief in themselves.

•    She instilled a work ethic and drive in the children: they started lessons at 6h30 in the morning and had evening lessons between 6pm and 8pm. This she did by constantly reminding them why they are working hard – she motivated them and helped them to focus on the goal they were pursuing.   

Lumka Mhlaba is a leader that made a difference in the lives of people – not only the pupils, but the community.  I can imagine that when she arrived in the rural village of Libode,  at a school with a dismal record, that she was seen as an outsider from ‘the big city’.  Yet she took on the challenge and persevered in spite of all the difficulties, lack of resources and objections from the Department of Education and the Community Leaders.

Next time a challenge looks too big, think about Lumka and the difference she has made.  Her legacy will live in those children long after she has moved on.
 Annemarie Viljoen-Griffiths 
Leadership Development
Leadership Development
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