Ghetto’s go-getter

ON THE RISE: Mma Manyena
Taking Tabitha to the top

In 2013, Florence Manyena called time on her 29-year teaching career.

The married mother-of-seven was not lost to the world of education, however, swapping the classroom for an entire school as she set up her very own institution.

Initially founded as a pre-primary, Tabitha English Medium Primary School is now one of the fastest-growing primary schools in Francistown.

Based behind Botho University on the outskirts of the city, the establishment is closing in on 400 students – three years ago, that number stood at just 13!

This is the story of Manyena and her school’s incredible rise…..

Before we get into the business side of things, let’s get acquainted – tell us a bit about your background?

I was born in Zwenshambe, a small village in the North-East; that’s where I attended primary school and did very well.

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I proceeded to Materspei and then to Francistown College, where I did my primary course before continuing to get my diploma in primary education.

After that I taught in different schools in Botswana, starting in a remote village in the Bobirwa district called Gobojango.

Interestingly enough, back then when the river was full we used to hire people to carry us across in zinc bathtubs- we’d pay them P20 to help us cross the water!

What an introduction to teaching! So, how did you end up back in Francistown?

In 2004, I was transferred to Ikhutseng Primary and then Pelotswana, finally ending up at Our Lady of the Desert.

I eventually left teaching to start my own business in 2013.

I founded it as a pre-school in Somerset, Extension.

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Later, when an opportunity arose to move to a bigger space where I could expand my business, I thought to myself, ‘If I managed with a pre-school why don’t I try my luck there?’

That’s when I moved to the previous building in Block 10 and started my primary school.

By then [May 2018] I had only 13 children in my primary department – by the end of 2019, I had 200 kids!

Wow, that’s impressive!

It was because of my hard work.

This teaching career needs passion and the right skills.

Skills where you look at the whole being of a child, supporting them physically, mentally, academically – combining all those, I think that is what made most parents enroll with us.

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Sometimes I have to pinch myself at how fast we’ve grown – we’re now sitting at 390 children, with more being enrolled every day!

So what sets Tabitha apart?

The skills we are using are very unique.

Most of our pre-schoolers, that’s children aged between three to four-and-a-half, when they leave pre-school, can read and write well, which is quite rare for that age.

The value we place on our clients is also very important.

We make them part of the organisation.

You shouldn’t be there as an isolated entity, you have to work together.

Like I always say, it must be a three-legged pot where all the stakeholders are involved equally – that’s the school, parents, and the kids themselves.

At Tabitha, we pride ourselves on allowing the parents to have their say.

Even at 12, a parent can call if they want to complain or give us assistance or help; whatever it is and whatever time, we are always available!

Now that’s dedication! Tell us about the school’s vision?

To equip school-going children with quality education and life skills which will enable them to contribute to the growth of the country economically and to be socially responsible citizens. We believe that every parent wishes to see their child fitting somewhere in society when they grow up.

But you can’t start this process when the child is already big, it must start at this early age!

Our mission is to make Tabitha one of the unique providers of quality education to all school-going children, embracing all ethnic backgrounds, races, and physical dispositions.

Most private schools make prospective students sit for an interview.

That interview is to sieve and get only the cream. But at Tabitha we do not discriminate; I’m saying every child must taste an English Medium.

Here we take you as you are and help you grow.

I understand your curriculum is a little different too?

Our syllabus is the normal PSLE found in all primary schools.

However, we offer extracurricular activities and recently introduced cooking lessons and the piano, which have proved really popular with the students.

Most kids when they grow up they choose careers in teaching, police, nursing because they’ve never been exposed to other occupations.

What does your role as Director and sole shareholder involve?

A school has got a management team, which comprises of the School Head, Heads of Department and senior teachers.

Currently, including non-teaching staff, we have about 30 employees.

As the Director, I am the overall overseer and ensure that things are running well.

I am there to guide not to rule, I’m not there to control but I am the leader.

How much are the school fees?

P4, 500 per term but we are intending to increase looking at the current environment; it’s expensive and Corona has made things so tough!

Speaking of Covid-19, following relentless pressure from the unions, last week the Government decided all schools would close for the rest of winter – your take?

It’s a huge blow! Private schools depend entirely on school fees to run – we don’t get any help from the government.

Even during the first lockdown, when other institutions were given the Relief Fund, we received nothing. We’re still recovering from that!

And in terms of child safety?

We had incidents when some of our kids had Corona but most of the cases actually came from the parents.

It was never from the school because at school we really adhere [to prevention protocols].

We open windows, let the kids go out after every hour, and constantly sanitize.

Closing schools really will not help – unless they also say parents must not go to work then I’d understand.

But as long as there’s movement it cannot work.

In fact, it will be even worse because when parents are at work, kids, especially those at the secondary level, will be roaming around the streets getting up to all sorts of mischief.

At least here we can keep an eye on them.

Time spent at school is the safest time during this Covid pandemic!

Moving on, exactly what happened between yourself and your ex-landlord, former Francistown Mayor, Sylvia Muzila?

Ahh, that question again!

I’ve got a company, North End Training Centre trading as Tabitha English Medium Primary School, it’s a registered name, registered business.

When I rented her place for a school, she asked me if I mind calling my school by her name, just for her fame.

There was no partnership, nothing.

There were some rumours that I was owing to her but it’s not true – I have my court order showing I don’t owe her even a cent!

It’s only that during that time the place did not have an occupation permit to run as a school.

When I finally secured the licence, she evicted me soon after!

What are your plans for the future?

My dream is to see the government promoting me as a woman, giving me land so that I can build my dream school.

Rentals are killing me!

I would love to expand to a secondary school as well; even the parents are crying for this to happen.

Away from the office, how do you relax?

I enjoy singing and have actually recorded a Gospel album which I’m yet to release.

It’s called ‘Nzamela’ because we all know that you can go at any time to any given place to get zamela.

But in heaven, there’s no zamela!

The church is also a big part of my life – I’m actually a church interpreter.

As a married mother of seven, how do you juggle being a businesswoman with raising a family?

As a human being, you must balance your life – have equal time for everything.

Use the time for business strictly for that and likewise time for the family must be for the family; never comprise one for the other.

Having said that, as a businesswoman you are always ‘in the office’ 24 hours!

I also allocate my time to God – that’s where my source of strength comes from.

Any last words of wisdom to budding entrepreneurs out there?

There’s no substitute for hard work.

I was born into a very poor family.

I went to Materspei without a uniform but it didn’t stop me.

Whatever conditions/circumstances you face in life, they should never stop you from achieving your vision.

And finally, Thank God It’s Friday – plans for the weekend?

Nothing planned yet, most likely I’ll be on the phone with stressed parents.

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