NRF Youth Month 2024: Koketjo Marobela

NRF Youth Month 2024: Koketjo Marobela

This year’s Youth Month is significant as the NRF celebrates 25 Years of Research, Innovation, Impact and Partnerships. These are the stories of the youth who have not only been impacted by the NRF but who also have an impact in their own spaces – and beyond! We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Ms Koketjo Marobela is currently a Master’s student in Psychology at Nelson Mandela University (NMU). She received funding from the NRF for her Honours studies.

How did your journey start?

When my matric results did not pave the way to a degree in Pharmacology, it felt like a door slamming shut. But I refused to let disappointment define me. Instead, I saw it as a detour, an opportunity to explore new paths. Choosing to study Analytical Chemistry at CPUT was not my first choice, but it became a stepping stone, a way to keep moving forward when it seemed easier to stand still. And when the time came, I took another leap, transferring to NMU to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in English Language Studies and Psychology.

I will admit, discovering that my English major did not align with my PGCE aspirations was a blow. But I did not let it knock me down. Instead, I saw it as a chance to pivot, to discover new passions and forge a different path. So, I embraced Psychology and pursued an Honours degree, finding a new purpose in the process.

Applying for the NRF bursary was nerve-wracking, but it paid off, a testament to my hard work and determination. And now, as I delve into my Master’s studies, with a focus on community development, I cannot help but feel a sense of pride. Each twist and turn has led me here and shaped me into the person I am today: a believer in the power of resilience, adaptability, and seizing every opportunity that comes my way.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/career?

The NRF has been a beacon of support and opportunity on my academic journey. The funding played a pivotal role in shaping not just my career but also my personal life and the lives of those around me.

Receiving full-cost study funding for my Honours in Psychology in 2023 was a game-changer. Coming from a single-headed household, where my mother was the sole provider and not working, finances were a constant worry. But with the NRF’s support, those worries dissipated. I no longer had to stress about basic necessities like food and rent. I could focus wholeheartedly on my studies without the burden of financial strain. Moreover, the bursary did not just provide for my academic needs; it also alleviated financial pressures at home. For the first time, my family could enjoy a Christmas without the weight of scarcity, and the new year did not start with anxiety about where our next meal would come from.

The impact extended beyond immediate needs. With the device allowance, I was able to purchase my first-ever laptop, a tool that not only aided my studies but also opened doors to new opportunities. It levelled the playing field, allowing me to keep pace with my classmates and access resources I previously could not afford. Even the small things, like being able to afford graduation attire, held significant meaning. It was not just about dressing the part; it was about feeling a sense of equality and belonging among my peers.

But perhaps the most profound impact is the way the NRF bursary propelled me toward my dreams. With their support, I obtained my qualification, laying the foundation for my aspirations of becoming a counselling psychologist. It is not just about my individual journey; it is about breaking barriers and showing that dreams can indeed become a reality, regardless of background. The NRF did not just fund my education; they invested in a future filled with potential. Their support has not only changed my life but has also planted seeds of hope and possibility in the hearts of those around me. And for that, I will be forever grateful.

What is your area of expertise?

In my current studies, I delve into the intricate world of community psychology, particularly focused on community development within the context of South Africa. My research centres on understanding the profound psychological and emotional impact of chronic poverty on child-headed households, employing the valuable perspective of social workers as key informants. The heart of my study lies in unravelling the multifaceted challenges faced by children in these vulnerable households. Chronic poverty does not just affect material circumstances; it seeps into the very fabric of their being, shaping their psychological well-being and emotional resilience. By shining a light on these often-overlooked aspects, my research aims to give voice to the silent struggles endured by these children.

But my work does not stop at diagnosis; it extends into action and intervention. I seek to uncover the crucial role of social workers in supporting these households, examining the strategies and interventions they employ. Are these interventions effective in addressing the unique needs of child-headed households? Are there gaps or barriers hindering their effectiveness? Through rigorous analysis and empirical investigation, I strive to provide not only a comprehensive understanding of the challenges but also practical recommendations for intervention. My research is not just academic; it is rooted in a desire for real-world impact and positive change. By identifying effective interventions and suggesting avenues for improvement, I hope to contribute to the well-being and resilience of child-headed households facing chronic poverty in South Africa.

Ultimately, my work embodies the ethos of community psychology, empowering communities, advocating for social justice, and fostering resilience in the face of adversity. It is a journey of discovery, empathy, and action, driven by a commitment to making a tangible difference in the lives of those most in need.

Why is your work/studies important?

My work and studies hold profound significance in addressing the complex challenges faced by child-headed households in South Africa, particularly those enduring chronic poverty. By focusing on the psychological and emotional ramifications of their circumstances, I aim to bring attention to their plight and advocate for targeted support. The potential impact of my research is vast. Firstly, by illuminating the psychological burdens carried by children in these vulnerable households, I seek to catalyse empathy and understanding among policymakers, stakeholders, and society at large. Recognition of the depth of their struggles is essential to foster compassion and drive effective interventions.

Furthermore, my research endeavours to inform and enhance the practices of social workers engaged with child-headed households. Through an examination of current interventions and their efficacy, I strive to identify opportunities for improvement and innovation. By refining support strategies, we can bolster the resilience and well-being of these children, empowering them to navigate their challenges more effectively. The significance of my work extends beyond South Africa’s borders. While rooted in the local context, the insights gleaned from my research can resonate globally. Many regions worldwide confront similar issues of poverty and vulnerable populations, necessitating tailored interventions and support systems. By sharing knowledge and best practices, my research can contribute to international efforts aimed at safeguarding the rights and well-being of vulnerable children and communities.

Ultimately, through my research, I aim to advance the principles of social justice, equity, and human dignity. By amplifying the voices of child-headed households and advocating for their needs, I strive to foster a more inclusive and compassionate society, both within South Africa and across the globe.

What are some of your proudest academic achievements?

Passing my undergraduate degree with an average above 75% was a huge accomplishment for me. It was not easy, but it showed that all the hard work and dedication I put into my studies paid off. Receiving a student merit award based on my second year of study was another highlight. It was validation that my efforts had not gone unnoticed, and it motivated me to keep pushing myself academically.

Being recognised by the Golden Key Society for being among the top 15% in the Faculty of Humanities was a surreal moment. It felt like all my late nights studying and striving for excellence had been recognised on a larger scale. But perhaps the proudest moments for me were walking across the stage at graduation, not just once, but twice. Being the first in my family to earn a degree was a huge milestone, and to do it twice was beyond anything I had ever imagined.

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