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Against all odds

 Born with a hearing and speech impairment, Tlhokomelo Sabole has not let the disability stop her from realising her modelling dream

’Mantoetse Maama

She was born deaf and dumb but the disability did not stop Tlhokomelo Sabole from pursuing her dream of becoming a model.

Tlhokomelo Sabole
Tlhokomelo Sabole

The 24-year-old has since made Lesotho proud by winning several international beauty pageants, thereby proving right, the age-old adage that disability is not inability.

Ms Sabole was born and raised in the village of Qeme Ha Thaabe on the outskirts of Maseru, and started her modelling career in 2011. This was after a high school friend had urged her to give modelling a try, and Ms Sabole  immediately fell in love with the career.

“I started school at the St Paul School For the Deaf in Leribe district, when I was five years of age. It was a boarding school and to my surprise, I enjoyed being away from home because at the institution, I was surrounded by people who made my life easier and more enjoyable as they also communicated in sign language,” Ms Sabole told the Sunday Express through an interpreter.

“At home, I had to write whatever I wanted to say, on a piece of paper and this was very tiresome and frustrating. Of course, I love being around my family but the issue of communication was a problem, hence I enjoyed being at school more. This was why I would feel that the winter and Christmas holidays were too long because I really enjoyed being at school with people who shared similar challenges with me; people who really understood how I felt and needed to be treated in whatever situation.”

After her primary education, Ms Sabole had to leave the country to further her studies in South Africa.

“After passing my Primary School Leaving Examination, I had to go to South Africa since there was no high school that could accommodate my special needs here in Lesotho. But I had to do Grade Seven first at Bartimea School for the Deaf and Blind, which is located in Thaba Nchu in the Free State.

“However, I could not finish high school and write my matriculation examinations  because of financial constraints; I had to drop out when I was in Grade 11. My mother had breast cancer and her medication was very expensive, so the family could not afford paying for both my mother’s treatment and my education. My mother survived after surgery and that’s what makes me happy as she is still alive.”

Ms Sabole says she is hoping to go back to school next year so she could write her matric exams.

“I have been modeling since I was in high school and I have represented Lesotho in international competitions and won a number of titles. Since I am not at school at the moment, I am doing modelling on a fulltime basis.

“Last year, I was Second Princess in Miss Deaf Africa, which was one of my biggest achievements so far.

“I have been invited to take part in the 2014 Miss Deaf Africa competition to be held in Swaziland from 5-11October, and I am really looking forward to it and hopefully, win the title this time.”

However, Ms Sabole said the trip might fall through if she fails to find a sponsor for her airfare.

“I am really in a dilemma as I don’t have money to pay for my transport to Swaziland. I have to be with a guardian on the trip, so that guardian also needs to have her fare paid, and I don’t have the money at all. I am pleading with Basotho of goodwill to help me with plane tickets to enable me and my guardian to make the trip to and from Swaziland.

“Once I get to Swaziland, organisers of the competition will take care of  almost everything else for me and my carer, and that includes transport from and to the airport, accommodation and food. So what I am begging for are plane tickets from here and back.

“I am pleading with local businesses and individuals to support me on this tour and I promise to represent my country with honour at the pageant.”

Meanwhile, Ms Sabole said in addition to modelling, she would also want to have a career in the hospitality industry.

“I want to go to the National Institute for the Deaf in Cape Town to do a hospitality and hotel management course because one day, I would like to run my own hotel here in my beloved country of Lesotho.”

Ms Sabole, who is a member of the National Association for the Deaf-Lesotho (NADL), is considered “ a role model” for young Basotho girls with a hearing disability.

This is according to a NADL member, Ms Malesaoana Mohale, who believes Ms Sabole is “one of a kind”.

“Tlhokomela is a very strong young woman who can take Lesotho far with her modelling talent, which she can use to market this country abroad.

“Since her high school days in South Africa, she knew her roots; she continues to represent the Mountain Kingdom as she is proud of her country. We consider her a role model for young, deaf women in Lesotho, and an inspiration to many like her who can see that disability is not inability,” Ms Mohale said.

“She is confident in everything she does, including modelling, which is her chosen career. This has inspired us, as an organisation, to organise the country’s first-ever beauty pageant for the deaf, although we don’t have a date as yet.”

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