A Doc­tor’s Refuge

The Tshemba Foun­da­tion

Indwe - - Contents - Text: Julie Graham Images © Chris Collingridge

De­spite the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to bridge the very large gap be­tween the rich and the poor and dis­pos­sessed, South Africa re­mains a land of con­cern­ing con­trasts. This is par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent in the lack of ac­cess to health­care in ru­ral ar­eas, where fa­cil­i­ties are lim­ited and there are fewer health­care pro­fes­sion­als to at­tend to the pop­u­la­tion. Even when pro­vided free of charge, the cost of travel and time to a clinic from re­mote ar­eas of the coun­try poses a sig­nif­i­cant bar­rier for a lot of peo­ple, as does the num­ber of doc­tors work­ing or vol­un­teer­ing in the pub­lic sec­tor, re­sult­ing in over­all poorer health.

The Tshemba Foun­da­tion, de­signed specif­i­cally to bring med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers from South Africa and abroad to serve such com­mu­ni­ties, is ush­er­ing in what is con­sid­ered to be a new era in med­i­cal vol­un­teer­ing. The foun­da­tion was founded in 2014 by Neil Ta­batznik and God­frey Phillips when they reached a point where they were un­able to turn a blind eye to the in­equal­ity of health­care. The foun­da­tion’s mis­sion is to im­prove ac­cess to med­i­cal care for the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion of the Mpumalanga/Lim­popo re­gion. Ini­tially want­ing to help the com­mu­nity by build­ing a clinic, Ta­batznik soon dis­cov­ered that much of the in­fra­struc­ture was al­ready in place for med­i­cal care – the prob­lem was the lack of doc­tors, den­tists, and other med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers. “Struc­tures are not what’s needed, it’s the per­son­nel. The short­age of doc­tors and med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers in these ru­ral ar­eas is bor­der­ing on ob­scene,” Ta­batznik ex­plains.


And what bet­ter way to en­cour­age doc­tors and prac­ti­tion­ers from around the world to of­fer their much-needed ser­vices than by giv­ing them an op­por­tu­nity to be

fully im­mersed in the beauty of the African bush? The Tshemba Doc­tor’s Refuge, a part of the Tshembe Vol­un­teer Pro­gramme (which of­fers both short-term and longterm po­si­tions), opened in 2017, and has since been at­tract­ing first-class med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers from around the world.

Set on six hectares of pris­tine land within the Moditlo Game Re­serve just out­side Hoed­spruit, the lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tion can sleep up to 18 vol­un­teers in nine chalets, and four ad­di­tional vol­un­teers in a com­mu­nal house – all free of charge. “It’s built for doc­tors who have a wealth of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. This is their chance to give back,” Ta­batznik says. “We built this stun­ningly beau­ti­ful and com­fort­able lodge in a Big Five con­ser­va­tion area where doc­tors can rest, re­lax, and take in the peace­ful won­ders around them. Our idea is to pro­vide doc­tors with a refuge af­ter they’ve spent the day work­ing in gru­elling and ob­sta­cle-rid­dled con­di­tions. Prac­tis­ing medicine with­out the nec­es­sary equip­ment is much more chal­leng­ing than what they are used to.”

This unique of­fer­ing pro­vides doc­tors and health­care pro­fes­sion­als from across the globe with a tran­quil base in which to wind down, ex­change ideas, cre­ate med­i­cal solutions, and con­nect with peers in a beau­ti­ful space. There are a num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties that can be ar­ranged on their days off, such as sa­fari and game-view­ing adventures, wildlife-pho­tog­ra­phy cour­ses, and the op­por­tu­nity to take in some of the most spec­tac­u­lar scenery in Africa. Hik­ing, 4x4-ing, white-wa­ter raft­ing, moun­tain bik­ing and he­li­copter rides are just some of the ways in which to ex­plore this truly mag­i­cal re­gion, home to the renowned Kruger Na­tional Park, nearby Blyde River Canyon and more. And, in keep­ing with the foun­da­tion’s mis­sion to as­sist the com­mu­ni­ties nearby, there are am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­pe­ri­ence the town of

Hoed­spruit and its sur­rounds and re­ally con­nect with the lo­cals.


Once at the Tshemba Doc­tor’s Refuge, doc­tors and health­care pro­fes­sion­als are placed where they are needed most. A large num­ber will be sent to work at the nearby Tintswalo Hos­pi­tal in Acorn­hoek. It is a gov­ern­ment fa­cil­ity es­tab­lished in 1937 that pro­vides com­pre­hen­sive health­care – in­clud­ing mal­nu­tri­tion, malaria, ma­ter­nity, HIV and TB-re­lated treat­ment, care and sup­port ser­vices – to about 300,000 peo­ple, many of whom live in poverty.

Oth­ers may find them­selves of­fer­ing their ser­vices at the Tshemba Women’s Clinic in Hlokomela, a project of the Tshemba Foun­da­tion pro­mot­ing women’s health. “We have an Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing with the Mpumalanga Depart­ment of Health who al­lows us to place our doc­tors and nurses in their hospi­tals and clin­ics,” Ta­batznik says. “How­ever, we must stay cog­nisant of the num­ber of vol­un­teers we ac­cept at a time, as the Tintswalo Hos­pi­tal only has six per­ma­nent staff doc­tors. Hence, we look at what we do as or­gan­ised vol­un­teer­ing that you don’t have to pay for to at­tend.”

Tshemba’s mis­sion is to pro­vide vol­un­teers with a stim­u­lat­ing and chal­leng­ing work­ing en­vi­ron­ment and it is al­ready hav­ing a life-chang­ing im­pact on med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers and pa­tients alike. This, cou­pled with a unique lux­ury African bush ex­pe­ri­ence, makes it truly spe­cial.

For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact the Tshemba Foun­da­tion on +27 64 507 5527 or visit www.tshem­bafoun­da­tion.org.

Doc­tor’s Refuge at sun­set

In­for­mal nurses con­sul­ta­tion

Sis­ter Mau­reen Dun­nett as­sist­ing lo­cal pa­tients dur­ing her visit

Bar­bara Mc­go­rian en­joys the seren­ity of the bushveld.

In­side the Doc­tor’s Refuge

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