Touched by the spirit we hear
DR MAVIS NAIDOO is the principal of the KwaThintwa School for the Deaf, which is based in Cato Ridge, KwaZulu-Natal. The school takes in children with a hearing loss from the age of 3 to 20, from the poorest communities in rural areas all over KZN. KwaThintwa offers full boarding and follows the mainstream CAPS curriculum. The school was established by Archbishop Dennis Hurley. While he on a visit to Thintwa (meaning touched), he was touched on his cloak by an 11 year old boy. On questioning why the child was not at school, he discovered that there were limited opportunities for Deaf children. KwaThintwa was opened in February 1981 with 40 Deaf learners.
Mavis reflected that Archbishop Hurley had been someone she always had a deep admiration for as he had stood up for social justice and actively campaigned against apartheid. She said, "I couldn't believe that he was the chairperson of the interview committee when I applied for the job." Subsequently, Archbishop Hurley became a mentor to her in her various management roles within the school. "When I applied for the position, I had no ambition other than the need to make a difference. There is never a day when I am not touched by working at the school, I often have goose bumps when I drive into the school grounds."
She explained that she had a steep learning curve when she joined the school and went from a level one to a level three post in a very patriarchal school. She was a young Indian female who had no understanding of Zulu culture, no knowledge of Zulu language and no Sign Language.
"I really believed that my appointment was the will of God and I trusted that his Grace would keep me," she says.
The person in the principal's office
Her experiences at KwaThintwa informed the content of her PHD dissertation, which was an auto ethnographic study entitled, "The Person in the Principal's Office". Mavis was awarded her PHD in 2013, which she completed studying part-time in two years and eight months. She explains that she had been inspired to study further by her mother who had studied continuously throughout her life and uncalculated in her a love for education.
Mavis juggles many balls and plays a pivotal role in Deaf education. Over and above managing the 361 learners who are full time boarders and the 120 staff complement, she is the deputy president of Deaf Education Principals Association - South Africa (DEPASA) and has served as deputy president of South African National Association for Special Schools (SANASA). In addition, Mavis has been chancellor for the National Institute for the Deaf (NID) and has publications in international journals.
Her passion for the school is apparent in the active fundraising campaigns that she has undertaken since most the learners are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds resulting in minimal payment of fees. Mavis has secured millions of rands in funding, which has resulted in the building of classrooms, a library as well as a road to the school among other much needed facilities. "South African businessmen are very generous, especially when they can see tangible results," she says.
Running the school has required that Mavis acquire business skills and she is grateful for the support that she has received. "As a professional person, I was not prepared for a management role, however, my friend the late Hanu Singh, showed me the ropes and inspired me for the first five to six years on how to run the school as a business."
A place of excellence
Being goal orientated, Mavis sets the bar for herself, as well as the school, high, which she sees as a place of excellence. "I have a strong belief that the Deaf are not different to their hearing counterparts. They often suffer from low self-esteem, as the hearing community often puts a ceiling on their potential. However, I believe that they can achieve as well if not better than typically hearing children. Deaf education is fast changing, and this rapid change inspires me to do more."
Over the past eight years, the school has had a 100% matric pass rate including learners obtaining distinctions. The learners take South African Sign Language (SASL) as their Home Language and English First Additional Language (FAL). South Africa is the first country in the world to have Sign Language as a school subject.
The schools 2018 Dux, Thabile Qondani, was placed second in South Africa for SASL Home Language and is the first Deaf individual to study law in KZN. Other learners have gone on to become chefs, teachers, and work in IT.
A heart for the marginalised
"I have proved that a marginalised child can achieve against all odds by creating an environment that is conducive for learning with committed staff. The children at KwaThintwa are living testaments to this.
Mavis also reflected that she is very proud of the achievements of her two sons - who she says are successful role models that have a heart for the marginalised in South Africa.
If she could give advice to her younger self, Mavis would say, "Some things can be left undone. I am an overachiever and I don't need to do everything at once."
"I am very happy and content with what I have achieved. If I could turn back the clock, I would do this all again. KwaThintwa is the legacy that I leave behind," she concluded.
DR MAVIS NAIDOO is the principal of the KwaThintwa School for the Deaf, which is based in Cato Ridge, KwaZulu-Natal. The school takes in children with a hearing loss from the age of 3 to 20, from the poorest communities in rural areas all over KZN