Growing up, Nozuko Nqana from Imbali location in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal saw the ease with which people can cause harm to others without considering the consequences. Now, as an educational psychologist, she works tirelessly to instil empathy and compassion in the students of Scottsville Primary School. She believes through her work, she can help to foster understanding and kindness in Pietermaritzburg and beyond.
Nqana was raised by her paternal grandmother. Despite the challenges of growing up without her parents living together, Nqana credits their commitment to co-parenting with giving her a stable foundation on which to build her future.
“My mother, who conceived me during high school, had to send me to my paternal family when she returned to school,” she says.
The experience of her childhood gave her a unique perspective on family dynamics and instilled in her a strong sense of empathy and compassion.
Driven by empathy
Nqana had always wanted to become an educator because she was known for her strong communication skills, ability to explain things clearly, and empathetic nature.
After witnessing the unfair treatment of her cousin, who had epilepsy and internal seizures which resulted in a disability, she was motivated to combat the stigma surrounding disabilities.
Her cousin’s enrollment in a special needs school and the resulting bullying and mistreatment, caused Nqana to recognise the importance of challenging society’s negative attitudes toward people with special needs. It inspired her to pursue a career in psychology.
She was grateful to be accepted to pursue psychology studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).
A journey of self-discovery
The path to becoming a psychologist was filled with obstacles and challenges.
Nqana’s journey began with her enrollment at UKZN in 2015, and she went on to pursue her honours degree in psychology in 2018, followed by a master’s degree in educational psychology.
She describes this phase as something that changed all aspects of her life – physically, emotionally, financially, psychologically, and spiritually.
The power of a support system
The support of Nqana’s mother and her mother’s in-laws was crucial during this time. Their prayers and faith gave her hope and strength, she says.
Nqana adds that she learned that having a support system can make a world of difference when facing uncertainty and difficulty.
According to Nqana, the family visit during the holidays proved to be a turning point in her life. It opened her eyes to new perspectives, broadened her faith, and deepened her understanding of herself and the world around her. This experience led to becoming more compassionate with a desire to make a positive impact on society.
Though she had studied in the field of therapy, Nqana realised that even professionals need support and guidance to maintain their well-being. Her ultimate goal is to foster a society where everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
Nqana’s work focuses on providing support to school children, particularly those with learning difficulties. She uses various methods, such as consulting with professionals, conducting interviews, and using test materials to assess and understand a child’s needs.
She also plays a vital role as a bridge between teachers and students, ensuring that students understand the distinction between their roles at school and at home. She emphasises the importance of being accountable and providing support in a way that is tailored to each child’s individual needs.
While adolescents may be more reliant on their emotions than logical reasoning, this can lead to increased stress and anxiety. Nqana says it is vital for supportive adults to help adolescents navigate these challenges. She also highlights the importance of taking a non-judgemental approach, while also providing age-appropriate guidance and advice.
“Adolescents are still developing, so they need the support of adults who understand their unique needs. We must provide guidance and nurturing without criticism or judgement to help them become healthy and successful adults.”
No shame in seeking help
Nqana says, “Primary caregivers need to be psycho-educated, meaning that they should be informed about the psychological needs of children.
Furthermore, Nqana emphasises that a child’s placement in a vocational school should not be viewed as a sign of inferiority, but rather as a way to meet their individual learning needs.
It is important to understand that seeking help, whether it be for mental health or any other challenge, is not a sign of weakness, regardless of gender or age, Nqana explains. Many people are struggling, and it is understandable to want to talk about it, but they may fear judgement or potential backlash.
Nqana stresses that finding a “safe space” to express oneself and seeking support is crucial, especially for young adults. By doing so, they can begin to heal and become healthy, responsible adults.
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