Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
It is not many who pursue their dreams later in their lifetime. More so if you are born and raised in a poverty-dominated world. But, at the age of 50, Mrs Phosa, well-known in her village of Ha-Makhuvha, as Ma’am Phosa. Defied the odds and bossed up when she decided to put behind all the self-pity and excuses and chase her dreams.
Married at a young age and searching for a place to call home after she suddenly became homeless. She did not let anything stop her from dreaming big. I had a chat with her about how she overcame all odds and changed her life when so many believed she couldn’t.
Mutshidzi Kwinda: At the age of 50, did you not think it was too late to step up and follow your passion for teaching?
Ma’am Phosa: I did. I knew I was already too old to go after my dreams, but I had to do it. I have tried almost all the jobs you can think of. I have sold vegetables from door to door, mopped floors, cleaned toilets, volunteered in countless organizations, ploughed the fields; you can name it all. And it was not enough. I had a burning desire to become more than just a kind street vendor. I wanted to be around children. I wanted to teach, and no matter how I tried to talk myself out of this “silly” desire, it kept crawling back to me.
At times, I would even have dreams about it as if God was giving me an instruction. And I knew I had no other choice but to try and see what would happen. And that’s what I did. I went and spoke to the chief of our community and told him I wanted to start a creche. I outlined my plan to him and explained how the creche would benefit the community so that he could grant me a stand to commence my teaching work. And just like that, with hard work and determination, my dream came to life.
MK: What would you say was your primary motivation to start the creche?
Ma’am Phosa: The main reason was the desire to fulfil my dreams and be of service to my community. This is why instead of registering the creche as a private learning centre, I chose to make it a public/NGO.
I wanted to create a safe space within the community where people can leave their children when they go to work or school. I know the pain of being stuck in a place where you have to choose between your children and your career. It is not a good place to be because, whichever decision you make, you end up losing something important and valuable – one way or another.
I also have some background knowledge about teaching children, which I acquired through the four years in college between 1992 and 1996. So to me, teaching and caring for young children has always been a calling. And above anything, I wanted to help my community by providing concrete and formal Education to the children while they are still in their early developmental stage. In that way, I knew it would help them grow into young girls and boys who value Education.
MK: You dropped out of teaching college in your final year, and as a result, you couldn’t finish your studies. How did that make you feel?
Ma’am Phosa: It crushed me deeply. I was beyond hurt. All I wanted, more than anything, was to build a promising future for both my children and me. But all that was gone in a blink of an eye. I had to leave everything to take care of my son and, later on, his father. Then, around the age of 4, my son, now 33 years old, suddenly fell sick. Before I knew it, my son was given the title “disabled.”. He went from being a healthy bouncing baby boy to being a little boy who couldn’t walk, talk, or even sign. The doctor could come up with only the explanation of his seizures, so the final diagnosis to this date is epilepsy.
When I tell people about how I left school to take care of my son, they often ask me why I didn’t find someone to look after him while I finished school. And more than anything, I wish I had that luxury. But, unfortunately, I was in a position where no one could help take care of him(especially for free). The father of my children had no relatives close by where we lived. And neither did I. My family lived across the mountains, and even though that’s the case, I tried to plead with my mother to come to stay with us just for a little while so that she could help while I finished writing my exams. But, unfortunately, she couldn’t. So yes, leaving school was beyond painful, but I had no other choice.
MK: You studied Education at a tertiary level; what was the experience like?
Ma’am Phosa: I enrolled in a teaching college to study Education (Foundation Phase) for grade R to grade 4 learners. That was between the age of 33 and 37. It was one of the first times I was ever hopeful for a brighter future. I could almost see myself and my children escape the chains of poverty. But that hope did not reach far. As I said, my son became severely sick in my final year, and the doctors kept adding more and more things that were wrong with him. From just epileptic seizures, he then became mute, incontinent and intellectually disabled. My world was torn apart, and I did not know where to run to. That year, I failed three of my courses in the final exams with supplementary. I had prepared myself to go and write despite any hurdles. However, nothing prepared me for what came next.
In 1997, my child’s condition became critical to the point where I thought I would lose him. As I was in the midst of this turmoil with my son’s sickness, his father passed away. At that point, I had accepted that that was it. My future had just been flushed down the drain right before my eyes. Now all I hold from the teaching college is an academic record without a certificate of completion.
Although I never got the opportunity to seal my foundation phase education studies, I completed level 4 with SETA in 2014 at the age of 54, qualifying me to teach preschool children.
MK: What would you advise someone going through challenges and wanting to give up on their dreams?
Ma’am Phosa: Don’t lose hope. When you meet challenges, never give up without fighting for what you believe in. And more importantly, have someone or something to lean on when challenges come. I trust God, and He is the one on my speed dial whenever I need a friend to talk to.
MK: What does self-evolution mean to you?
Ma’am Phosa: It means that you must never stop improving yourself as an individual. It does not matter how young or old you are. It is crucial to constantly work on yourself. Learn from others and your mistakes. Be willing to move from your comfort zone and reach for the stars. You can always be more. You can always achieve more. And you can go as far as your mind takes you.