Having seen first-hand the extent of the challenges facing the Deaf community, Aina took the situation into her own hands with the Tshepiso Mokoena Foundation – offering developmental support, services, healthcare and empowerment to deaf people throughout South Africa.
Dedicating your life to helping others requires a nearly endless amount of passion and a certain motivation that only comes from life experience. These moments or circumstances are etched in our memories and guide the more philanthropic of us in a direction to right the wrongs or end the injustices of one’s own experience. Tshepiso Aina dreamed of becoming a Chartered Accountant, but changed course and opted to become a sign language interpreter, a decision made gradually and as a result of her upbringing with – and challenges faced by – her deaf parents and uncle.
Aina’s exposure to the communication barriers that deaf people experience every day opened her eyes to the extent of similar challenges faced by the wider community of the Deaf. As a woman, she was particularly affected by seeing the unique struggles of deaf women and girls in South Africa, whose dreams are so often crushed entirely due to a lack of empowerment programmes designed specifically to help them. Aina decided that she had to take the situation into her own hands, and her years of work and determination resulted in the Tshepiso Mokoena Foundation. It was founded with the aim to offer developmental support, services, programmes, access to legal information, healthcare and empowerment for deaf people throughout South Africa.
As gender-based violence continues to plague women in the country, and with the spread of Covid-19, the foundation has its hands full with its efforts to ensure that these women are receiving adequate support – both from the foundation itself and from the institutions tasked with addressing the two pandemics. Beyond the support that many take for granted as a basic human right, Aina wants to empower deaf women and girls by breaking down the barriers that they in particular face: “Power means, to me, challenging accepted societal and governmental norms to ensure that the talent, skills and potential of deaf women and girls are recognised and given opportunities to grow in mainstream society.” Her decision to change her career course is paying off, as she’s currently running the foundation from Washington, DC, working as a sign language interpreter and hoping to take her commitment to helping people global.
She was honoured at the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth Awards in 2017 for her work, which put the foundation on the map. They’re looking to grow the Tshepiso Mokoena Foundation’s Deaf Girls Code initiative in partnership with iSchoolAfrica so that it operates across the continent. Even though her hands are full with a day job and the foundation work, she still serves on the Board of Trustees of the Equal Health for Deaf People Organisation in Cape Town, is the current Vice-President and Region 7 Representative for Children of Deaf Adults, and is a Board Member of the Immense Grace Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria.
The notable impact that Aina has had on the lives of deaf South African women and girls is a testament to her conviction and drive, especially when the odds are against you. In her own words,
“You must understand why you are doing what you are doing, because this will keep you grounded when challenges and obstacles come your way at any point in your journey. And do not forget self-care.”