Tshemba Foundation, 2022

Celebrating 5 Years of Tshemba

November 2022
Volunteer story

In 2022, we celebrate 5 years since Tshemba’s first volunteer arrived and we began uplifting and supporting rural healthcare in South Africa.
Read our story...

Tshemba welcomed its first volunteer in 2017, but our story truly begins back in 2014 on a game drive in Hoedspruit, South Africa. Our lead founder, Neil Tabatznik, was approached by the tracker of the drive to help with the slow build of his daughter’s satellite primary school. Neil agreed, but still wanted to do more. After meeting with the Chief of the surrounding area to understand the community’s needs and much research, he came to a sobering realisation: while the medical infrastructure of the area was somewhat in place; there were just not enough qualified healthcare professionals to support it.

In 2015, we started building our tranquil Volunteer Centre, which today is offered as accommodation to Tshemba’s volunteers free of charge. The Centre was envisioned as the perfect escape from a hard day’s work. We offer a scenic hideaway and true bushveld refuge surrounded by an array of game, bird species and the great outdoors.

In 2017, Tshemba signed an MOU with the Mpumalanga Department of Health that allows us to place healthcare professionals in outlying hospitals and clinics within the province. Volunteers are primarily placed at Tintswalo Hospital, a government-run hospital which serves the 300 000 plus residents of Acornhoek, Mpumalanga. Volunteers can also choose to help out at many of the satellite clinics in the area.

In 2017, Tshemba appointed Barbara McGorian as CEO and, long-time leader in public health, Professor John Gear as Medical Director. Both have dedicated immense passion and commitment to Tshemba’s vision, and have helped us grow over the last 5 years. Featured here with the CEO of Tintswalo Hospital, Merriam Moyimane, and Nursing Services Manager Adelaide Ubisi.

In 2017, we welcomed our very first Tshemba volunteer: Dr. Kathleen Meyer from the United Kingdom. Kate spent 4 months at Tshemba: “I loved every moment of it. It was a privilege to have participated in the project, which I think is an incredible gift to the community.”

On 7 July 2017, Tshemba opened the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic, which we funded and built, a pioneering healthcare infrastructure project dedicated to promoting women’s health, and the only one of its kind in the region. Our volunteers continue to assist and work out of the clinic, ensuring that women’s health is supported and prioritised in the region. Featured here: Sonja Botha, Neil Tabatznik and Sr Busisiwe Moroane.

In 2017, our first year of welcoming volunteers, we were privileged to have 9 volunteers give of their time. Volunteers joined us from South Africa, the UK, Australia and the Netherlands. In 2022, 5 years later, we celebrate having welcomed over 200 volunteers to Tshemba.

In 2018, volunteer Dr. Pestana commented on the appalling state of oral health in the area, especially amongst children. Colgate, The Dental Warehouse and Wright-Millners came together to donate equipment and mobile units towards a dental campaign that would comprise of education, screening and treatment. All of this was done free of charge. Over 8,000 children and 200 adults benefited from the programme.

A very important aspect of Tshemba’s programme is ensuring a transferral of skills from volunteers to local staff. Offering accredited Continuing Professional Development (CPD) sessions has been crucial to this. In 2018, volunteer Dr. Leon Nel (an ENT surgeon from Cape Town) spoke at one of these CPD sessions to a fantastic turnout of local doctors, physiotherapists and nurses from Tintswalo Hospital and the surrounding clinics.

Tintswalo Hospital does not staff specialists, therefore specialist volunteers are always extremely valuable in the area.In 2018, volunteer Dr Leon Nel (an ENT surgeon from Cape Town) performed a tonsillectomy operation at Tintswalo - the first in many years. CEO Merriam Moyimane said, “I don’t remember when last we had this kind of operation at the hospital - thank you very much to the Tshemba Foundation!”

Tshemba regularly attracts healthcare professionals who return to volunteer time and time again. One such long standing volunteer was orthopedic surgeon, Carl Fatti. Tintswalo Hospital was the first place he ever practiced, completing his internship there in 1984, and he returned there through our volunteer programme. Tintswalo was the last place he practiced as a doctor, before his tragic passing in 2020. Described as “an eternal optimist who always brought positivity to work when it seemed that the situation was insurmountable, given the limited resources and constraints. He always did the best he could for his patients.”

In August 2019, Tshemba initiated the first volunteer cataract camp at Tintswalo Hospital. There was an air of excitement as 59 patients had arrived early in anticipation of having their sight restored by our volunteer ophthalmologists and eye care professionals.

Did you know Tshemba welcomes volunteers from a variety of healthcare specialties? One of our longstanding volunteers is dermatologist Dr Nomphelo Gantsho, who regularly returns to Tshemba for patient visits and is always on hand for telemedicine consultations.

Tshemba was proud to do its part in supporting Tintswalo Hospital and the surrounding community during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, volunteers at Tintswalo helped to set up an isolation ward, Hlayisekani, and shape the COVID-19 response efforts through clinic manuals for staff, complimented by in-person training, as well as running patient education on the importance of vaccinations.

Longstanding volunteer Dr Inez Allin-Widow from the Netherlands, now a full-time staff member, returned to the Tshemba Foundation just as the COVID-19 pandemic peaked across Europe. After self-quarantining, she joined volunteers in getting the local health system COVID-19-ready. She coordinated the team’s primary healthcare response and helped 40 clinics in the area prepare for any outbreaks.

In October 2020, the Tshemba Foundation finished the refurbishment of Tintswalo Hospital’s eye clinic and cataract theatre, specially equipped to carry out cataract surgeries, other ophthalmic procedures and primary eye care. At the official opening, Mpumalanga Department of Health MEC Sasekani J. Manzini said, “Through collaboration with stakeholders like the Tshemba Foundation … we are able to assist in restoring the eyesight of so many who are blind or partially blind due to cataracts so that they can contribute meaningfully again to the development of the economy of the country and earn a living to support themselves and their family.”

Did you know Tshemba supports rural healthcare outside of Tintswalo Hospital? In March 2021, Tshemba conducted its first doctor visit to the Dwarsloop Community Health Centre. Since then our volunteers visit the centre weekly to assist with challenging cases, such as patients with chronic and acute ailments. We also provide training on a variety of topics.

During their stay, Tshemba volunteers often take the initiative to introduce interventions into the hospital and clinics that have a sustainable impact on patient care. One such inspiring example was volunteer Dr Mary-Anne Hartley who fundraised and supervised the dramatic and touching renovation of Tintswalo Hospital’s casualty ward in 2021.

Since our establishment, Tshemba has proudly welcomed volunteers from all across the world, including North and South America, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and Singapore! Tshemba has gained credibility around the world for our sustainable and impactful programme, as well as exceptional volunteer support.

In 2021 we hit a huge milestone for Tshemba, as our volunteer centre surpassed capacity - allowing us to expand our support for rural healthcare. Tshemba’s size is guided by the needs of Tintswalo Hospital and its surrounding clinics, so that we can ensure our support is beneficial and impactful.

In 2021, Tshemba introduced the nurse communicator programme into Tintswalo Hospital. The programme recruits unemployed nursing assistants in the area to act as volunteer translators and communicators for Tshemba’s doctors, supporting their daily interactions with patients. Overcoming language barriers allows us to provide more culturally responsive care. In return, these nursing assistants gain valuable experience for their CV and learn from healthcare professionals.

This year, the Tshemba Foundation has prioritised the improvement of women’s health in the area. Volunteers have trained nurses at the hospital and surrounding clinics about cervical cancer and pap smears, as well as supporting family planning through implanons. Over 900 pap smears and 650 implanon implants have been administered this year!

Tshemba volunteers have been responsible for introducing deep and meaningful changes in Tintswalo Hospital procedures.One example was the development of a triage system by volunteer Dr. Annie Hartley, which ensured that critical patients were seen by doctors first. After collaboration, training and consultations between our volunteers and hospital staff, this year the system has been formally accepted as hospital protocol, as evidenced by the Department of Health logo on the triage form.

Tshemba volunteers pioneer various donation drives and projects at Tintswalo Hospital over and above their day-to-day service. Volunteer Jane Worsley coordinated a huge donation of equipment from PhysioNet UK to Tintswalo Hospital, which included specialist chairs for children with cerebral palsy. This equipment is now being utilised by the therapy department at the hospital, as well as a local special needs school for daily use by their learners.These efforts would not have been possible without the support of many other generous organisations, individuals and volunteers including: Malamalele Onward, Heather Angilley, Dr Enrico and Robyn Maraschin, the Gladys Project and the Paige Project.