TEACHING, mentoring and guiding students with hearing impairment to dance in rhythm can be a difficult task — but not to Courage Chipatiso (pictured), a trailblazing teacher at King George VI Memorial School in Bulawayo.
Despite living with a condition called muscular dystrophy, Chipatiso has managed to overcome the odds and has become an inspirational English and accounts teacher as well as an award-winning dance and drama teacher for her deaf students.
She has not been held back by her condition, which damages and weakens muscles over time, while decreasing mobility and making daily tasks difficult. A fortnight ago, Chipatiso was honoured as an integrity icon at the integrity awards held by Accountability Lab
Zimbabwe (AL Zimbabwe), a governance institute.
AL Zimbabwe holds the annual event to recognise honest public servants who display integrity in their job. The icons are selected by their communities and recognised by the organisation for their outstanding work.
She is a counsellor, sign language interpreter, and is considered a role model by her community.
“Because of my condition I cannot dance, but I dance in my spirit and I dance through them,” she said, referring to her deaf students as they danced to yesteryear hit song True Love by the legendary band Ilanga.
She has a natural connection with her students.
“We hear vibrations from the speaker. We feel with our hearts,” says Anele Ndlovu, a 15-year-old King George VI student, who is in the drama and dance class.
Anele says she is lucky because Chipatiso also teaches her English and accounts.
“She is patient with the deaf. If she realises that we don’t understand, she is able to repeat several times until we understand. She is extremely committed to her work.”
Chipatiso believes she has had an impact on her students’ lives.
“As a teacher I would like to say I have had a positive impact on my students, firstly I have contributed a lot towards their academic achievements.
“From the time I started teaching, I had a belief in my students who are deaf, that they could write an exam, a national exam, and pass the exam like other students who are not deaf,” she says.
“My first exam class, I actually have a 100% pass rate. And it was amazing and people were really surprised and asked ‘how did you do it, how did you make them pass?’ and I told them it was a matter of believing in them,” she says.
As a guidance and counselling teacher, she has been imparting life skills to her students. She was among the first batch of teachers who were trained when the module was made part of the national curriculum.
“I was able to take classes and imparted a lot of knowledge in terms of life skills. My students were excited for me to teach them things they were not able to get from their homes because of the lack of sign languages.”
Her students have been exposed to international platforms, due to her dance and drama classes.
“This has boosted their confidence and self-esteem,” she says. “We’ve been to places locally, nationally and regionally, for instance travelling and competing in the Sadc 3 Zwakala Competition in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“I have discovered that the deaf express themselves well through dance and drama. Issues are brought out and resolved through these performances. Twice we scooped the gold medals back home as we lifted the KG VI flag to the apex. I love making people happy; a good performance makes people smile! So does my spirit.”
Chipatiso says her desire is to impart values of honesty, hard-work, commitment and excellence to her students.
“Integrity has to do with the principles of right and wrong. What is it that is considered right in our society, and what is it that is considered wrong in our society? If you conform to those standards, then you have integrity,” she says.
“You need to also be having certain behaviour, and characteristics that fall under the title of integrity. Are you a person that is honest? Honest is an integral part of integrity. We also expect a person to be transparent and accountable.”
As a teacher at King George, she takes seriously the importance of upholding integrity in governance and public service delivery.
“To ensure good governance at my school, I lobbied and advocated for a balance in bodies like: administrative body and special committees that are formed so that they are inclusive, since King George VI is a school where learners with various abilities are enrolled.
“This means that if we have a committee with non-disabled teachers or staff members, there should be at least a number of staff with disabilities so that the interests of all people are catered for,” she says.
Chipatiso says she has been honest in the discharge of her duties by being truthful and upright at all times.
“I am honest with my time and am honest with my work. I am honest with the leaners that I work with, and I tell them about life.”
She believes all human beings deserve respect. This explains why she considers underlying reasons in the behaviour of her students when helping them to change for the better.
“To me, all people are equal, hence they need to be treated with the same respect. I do not choose people and I do not care whether you come from whichever religion. Like I said, a person is a human being. Whatever they trust or have faith in, I have to respect.
“A good example that I can give is that at my workplace we are different people with different backgrounds. For instance, religion, there are some types of people that actually attack a person because of their religion.
“For instance, we have people who openly despise apostolic churches. I am an adventist, but I am open to letting people be comfortable with their beliefs. We should not segregate people because of what they believe. At the end of the day, who are we to judge?”
Chipatiso has also been working hard to ensure that the school delivers its mandate to teach persons with disabilities.
“I know our programmes are very powerful, because we are having a learner with a disability at the forefront. We are actually showing that we as the public service sector are actually able to deliver effectively to the learner. So, they really appreciate.
“The business community, individuals – even generally the private sector. We have a network of friends that actually can say they trust the King George institution, who can say that they trust King George with support in terms of; human support (volunteers), donations in cash or in kind.”
While several institutions have been dogged by corruption, particularly in enrolment, Chipatiso has been promoting transparency.
At times, she questions the enrolment process, should there be suspicion of foul play.
I have quizzed the way the enrolment is done, if I am not satisfied that a learner has been enrolled properly. I do ask openly what criteria have been used.
“I also ask about the criteria used to form management committees, where decisions are made. I strive to make sure that persons with disability are included to make sure there is representation,” she says.
Chipatiso’s workmates believe she deserves to be an integrity icon.
“Without a shadow of doubt,” says the head of the school, Perseverance Hadebe.
“She is an excellent woman of integrity; she is clear of focus, who does her duties beyond our expectations. She strives for excellence all the time.
“She is dynamic and a self-starter. Courage is now the senior woman in the deaf department. She can be trusted and we can bank on her all the time. She delivers even when she is given tasks at the 11th hour.”
A colleague, Ennet Mutasa, who teaches computers and art and is the head of the information communications technology department, says Chipatiso’s integrity and commitment to duty are beyond doubt.
“Through her, her dancers are learning the vales of ubuntu and hard work. Despite her personal challenges, she works hard and is degreed. She is now pursuing another degree in theology, so she is seen as an inspiration to her students.”
Enez Hussey, a consultant at the school, says Chipatiso has immensely contributed to changing people’s perceptions towards people with hearing impairment.
Hussey says people are often amazed to learn that her dancing and drama groups are composed of deaf people after seeing their polished performances.
She has also inspired her deaf students to strive for greatness by, among other things, taking on the challenges that confront them.
“On two occasions her teams have won first prize in regional competitions held in South Africa after putting up outstanding performances,” Hussey says.
AL Zimbabwe country director McDonald Lewanika says the Integrity Icon campaign, which has amplified the virtues of honest work, acts as a conversation starter on accountability and integrity in public service.
“Besides celebrating members of the public service who go over and beyond the call of duty to operate with integrity, the Integrity Icon campaign acts as conversation starter on accountability and integrity in public service. The intention is to facilitate conversations that allow people to take a closer look at what integrity is, rather than what it is not. It uses positive deviants such as naming and faming public service employees who display integrity,” Lewanika said.
He said the campaign presents models of what integrity looks like in practice and this contributes to conversations on what it is not.
“Through sharing Integrity Icons’ stories, the campaign triggers conversations, and inspires others to walk the path of integrity. So far, we know that the campaign and the stories of the icons have had demonstrable effects, that is, the fact that others are doing it, has triggered interest in doing the same. We are getting more requests for information on the campaign and testimonies of how it has inspired other public servants who previously thought they were alone,” Lewanika said.
“As such, the campaign has begun building a coalition of reformers within the public service who believe in certain professional, ethical and excellence stands when serving the public. For us, this is a big win in the fight to shift norms and values in public service, and is a huge step towards building responsible leaders and accountable institutions.”