Every now and then there are those colourful stories about real people who inspire others simply by following their passion. Glenmore speech therapist and Mrs SA finalist Noko Mokobi is one such person.
Armed with a heart of gold, 30-year-old Noko is proof that age and experience aren’t everything. In fact, she believes that our determination, creativity, kindness and desire to see change can set us apart or unite us on our journeys through life.
A speech and language therapist in the public health sector and postgrad Child Health student, Noko is an ambitious beauty who lives and breathes her passion for empowering women, children with special needs and the parents of those incredible young minds.
She’s a mentor to many, a pioneer for healthcare service delivery to marginalized populations and has a special interest in neuro-developmental support for pre-term infants. Noko is also pushing the boundaries in her field as the leader of down syndrome and autism support groups she runs, as well as educating and supporting parents who deal with the ethical challenges society has created. In her spare time, Noko enjoys hiking, exercising and making DIY beauty treatments.
“Although I don’t have any of my own biological children I have many babies at work who bring me joy. As a child I dreamt of teaching and healing children.”
She is also a finalist in this year’s Mrs South Africa pageant. “I also dreamt of wearing beautiful clothes and a crown on a stage in a room full of people and cameras,” she laughs.
Noko decided to study speech therapy because, she says, it ticked all the boxes in terms of what she wanted to do. “I knew I wanted to teach children, use and learn language (I can communicate in five South African languages and baby-sign language), be artistic and creative and work within the medical sector.”
Noko’s office is based at a public hospital in the eThekwini District and she often works with with outpatients who come in for communication rehabilitation. The most common conditions are childhood developmental speech and language delays co-occurring with other conditions like epilepsy, cerebral palsy and autism. She also sees adult patients who have had strokes or traumatic brain injuries, and have impaired communication abilities.
“Then it’s off to the wards to assess and manage in-patients with feeding difficulties. These are usually babies who are struggling to breastfeed or adults with swallowing problems. Working in a public health institution I find it even more rewarding serving people who ordinarily would not have access to specialised health services due to our country’s economic status.”
In her capacity as a postgraduate student in Child Health, Noko is currently learning about the basics of what children need in order to thrive, not just survive, including good nutrition, love, protection, healthcare and extra support if they have special needs.
In a society that Noko says can be very cruel, she often finds herself lost within the pleasure of her work, especially when it comes to the support groups she runs as a means of empowering parents of special needs children. “I run these groups with my colleagues because we live in a society where it is unfortunately still seen as taboo to have differently abled children and parents (many of whom had never heard of these conditions until their children were diagnosed) need support to break the stigma and help integrate their children into their communities, society and schools. I love what I do, and I am constantly reassured about the difference that I make.
“Early intervention is key to better development and, with many parents now spending more time at home, there are opportunities for incidental learning without making excessive effort. There is no shortage of awesome content available. I generally promote public health to anyone who has an ear to listen, because prevention really is better than cure. The Mrs SA platform has definitely helped amplify my voice by equipping me with personal branding and presentation skills, which I am so grateful for.”
When it comes to juggling her Mrs SA journey with home life, full time work and studies, Noko says a healthy lifestyle is vital. “We should find enjoyment in activities that keep us healthy. For me, that means doing a home workout or going for a hike with my husband. And everything in moderation. I make sure I eat breakfast and take supplements because I need a strong immune system when working with patients – I cannot afford to get sick. Curling up with a good book and a cup of tea keeps me grounded.”
As for beauty, Noko believes it is a state of mind. “We were all formed uniquely in God’s image. For me, beauty is about accepting myself and being courageous enough to give myself the attention I need. The one thing that has been consistent in my beauty regime is wearing sunblock every day. It’s an anti-aging skincare secret my mother taught me.”
Through her Mrs SA journey, Noko hopes to create incredible childhood memories for children. It starts, she says, with educating their caregivers. “It’s so easy as a woman, wife and mother to get caught up in the rut of ‘adulting’ and forget about your childhood dreams. I want to inspire those amazing little girls who’ve grown up to be tired, burdened women to dream again. A woman who soars takes children under her wings and they too learn how to fly.”
Photos by: @myphotographygroup_dbn