A Doctor’s Refuge
The Tshemba Foundation
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.
GIVING BACK WHILE ENJOYING THE BUSH
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.
LENDING A HELPING HAND
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