In mid-December 2020 my volunteering journey led me to the wild and wonderful Hoedspruit, where the Tshemba Foundation’s volunteer programme places medical professionals (from SA and abroad) at Tintswalo Hospital, the Tintswalo Eye Clinic and/or the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic.
I came to know about Tshemba via a physiotherapist volunteer from Eswatini, whom I had met onboard the Africa Mercy. Michelle’s sense of purpose and ability to adapt easily to whatever environment she is in, are but two of her incredible qualities. I interviewed her as well as two other international volunteers, one of whom has volunteered at the refugee camps in Greece numerous times (I’ve recently read The Beekeeper of Aleppo, so had a picture in my head about what the journey of a refugee could look like). I do understand that the majority of medical volunteers do not do so for recognition, nonetheless, I’m filled with deep admiration and respect for those who are driven to fill a gap in healthcare, in locations outside of their comfort zones.
The founders of the Tshemba Foundation felt compelled to start something meaningful – something that would make a real difference to specifically the rural communities in the region. I believe their journey may have started with the upgrade of a small rural school (perhaps Kismet is at play in my life here…see my previous column) before growing into something bigger. They entered an MOU with the Mpumalanga Department of Health, and first focused on placing medical volunteers in the region. They went on to build the Hlokomela Clinic Women’s facility which caters for women’s health including HIV, cancer, and obstetrics. They then invested R12-million into building a new eye-clinic at Tintswalo. This also included purchasing all the equipment and instruments, and now volunteer ophthalmological teams regularly hold two to three day eye camps at the hospital, gifting their time to restore the eyesight of blind patients. And as a cataract operation alumni, who only suffered from blurred vision, I can vouch for just how incredible a new lens is!
There’s much more to the Tshemba Foundation’s philanthropic story and I really only managed to scratch the surface during my two-and-a-half day visit. But I do plan to go back, soon, and write more stories.
I know that any kind of volunteering is not a walk in the park – there are sacrifices, highs and lows, and pros and cons. Here in South Africa the rural hospitals face immense challenges with funding, infrastructure, inefficient systems, equipment, specialist capacity, staff morale… I spent a fair bit of time interviewing members of the hospital staff who work with volunteers or with the Tshemba Foundation. It reinforced the fact that volunteering often impacts more than the direct beneficiary, in this case the patient, of you gifting your time.
I’d like to close with something Michelle mentioned when I interviewed her, at the end of her Tshemba Foundation #LEAVEOFPURPOSE: “I think the very fact that we’re able to come and volunteer means that we are from a privileged background. I don’t know what family responsibilities and financial requests my colleagues at the hospital may face, but I do know that volunteering is not an option for them.”
Is it an option for you?
And now I’m off to work, so that I can continue to feed my volunteering appetite.
Till soon, Chrissi xxx
Everything communicated here reflects my own personal opinion and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by the Tshemba Foundation, Tintswalo Hospital, the Tintswalo Eye Clinic and/or the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic.