The importance of imparting knowledge and skills

Name: Dr Bashir Bulbulia

Area of specialisation: Anaesthetist

Family: A wife and two children

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Looking back on life, we’re all faced with certain realities. There are regrets, achievements, moments of joy, bliss and pride; some of us are even blessed by leaving a legacy behind. So, when examining his life, Dr Bashir Bulbulia decided it was time to share the professional knowledge and skills he has gathered during his career.

“The hospital where we worked, Tinstwalo, reminded me of my student years when I worked at a hospital in the Eastern Cape. Not a lot has been done in terms of progress,” says Dr Bulbulia.

He pointed out that medical care within rural areas is not on par with what’s happening in the private sector. The basic equipment, drugs and services are available to patients, but things can be improved.  

“There is a lot that needs to be done in rural hospitals, hospital services, infrastructure and manpower, especially with young doctors doing community service. They need guidance and a bit of supervision. The patients are very trusting, and it’s the responsibility of doctors to ensure they can fulfil this trust and do things without endangering or harming patients. Without honed skills, you could harm somebody.”

Dr Bulbulia advises that volunteers need to consider what skills they want to impart when they join Tshemba. It varies within industries, for instance, an orthopaedic surgeon may need to spend a lot more time teaching. Anaesthesia is slightly different; it’s not a question of trying to do work, but rather one on how to get the young doctors to learn how to do things correctly.

“I believe my biggest contribution there would be to train the young doctors to improve their skills. We saw some patients and performed procedures during my stay there, which enabled me to show them how things should be done. It was really just to improve their skills and teach the young doctors safe anaesthesia; teach them hands-on skills,” says Dr Bulbulia.

Medicine is a difficult field. Doctors in community service may know a lot in theory, but practical skills are different as it can be lifesaving or not. It’s a principle that’s embraced by Tshemba; where volunteers not only assist in the field but also impart their skills and knowledge, helping the people grow who are left behind. In return for their services, volunteers can enjoy a luxurious stay at the doctor’s refuge.

“The lodge where we stayed was superb, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There is a nice camaraderie with the other doctors and the people from the environment. We had an evening where we all sat around the Boma to chat and braai. That interaction is something that will stay in my mind,” he notes.

Although he was only there for a week, he believes he can contribute a lot more and will definitely be back when he has space in his schedule.   

“All that’s really needed is your time.”

The story behind Tshemba Foundation, a doctor’s refuge

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Johannesburg, March – To say, speaking to Neil Tabatznik, founder of Tshemba Foundation, is inspirational is a vast understatement. Not only has he led an incredible life, but he is also dedicated to making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

“Tshemba was started about three years ago, and the concept was to bring medical practitioners to the most underserved areas in South Africa. The idea is not so much to build structures, as our experience of building structures has led us to Tshemba. 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,” says Neil.

The road to Tshemba started with a visit to a game lodge in the Hoedspruit area. Neil and a friend were on a game drive when the ranger asked Neil to build a school for his children. The community, at that point, already built a room and found a headmaster but it was nowhere near a proper school. Neil built the school, which is flourishing, and sat down with the area Chief to find out what the “real” need is. A clinic, the Chief responded.

It was during the research to build a clinic that Neil realised that the infrastructure was partly in place. They visited a beautiful clinic with full dental suites, but they were unused – there were no dentists.

“It the most tragic thing. Imagine someone gets sick and dies of something that if it had been in an urban area, it would not have occurred to anybody that their lives might be at risk.”

Hence, the Tshemba Foundation, a refuge for doctors, was built.

“It’s built for doctors who have a wealth of knowledge and experience; this is their chance to give back. 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 while being safe. Our idea is to provide doctors with a refuge after they’ve spent the day working in gruelling and obstacle-ridden conditions. Practising medicine without the necessary equipment is much more challenging than what they are used to,” comments Neil.

“We have an MOU with the Mpumalanga Department of Health who allows us to place our doctors and nurses in their hospitals and clinics. 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,” he continues.

Tshmeba Foundation is not only about servicing less fortunate people in dire need of medical attention, but also about helping doctors find their love for medicine again and pass their legacies on to the next generation.

Pledge your services to the Tshemba Foundation and help both those in need and yourself. Call +27 (64) 507 5527 or visit www.tshembafoundation.org for more information or to schedule your visit.

The story about a doctor and diabetics.

Name: Dr Hennie Nortje

Speciality: Diabetologist

Area of specialisation: Diabetes Mellitus and associated metabolic syndrome 

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Johannesburg, February – Dr Hennie Nortje is passionate about helping people, not just in his professional career, but also in his personal capacity. Hence, when he heard about a medical volunteer programme in the middle of the bushveld, he knew he had to go.

“The mission of Tshemba is empowerment. I only spent one week at Tshemba, but it was an experience that touched me deeply.” Dr Nortje’s visit was welcomed by all and highly successful, as diabetes and nontransferable diseases are a crux within rural communities. Oftentimes, these diseases go unnoticed and untreated due to limited medical staff and equipment as well as lack of patient and practitioner knowledge.

During his visit, Dr Nortje discussed clinical cases, presented lectures to the Clinical Associate Students, and identified personnel to be trained as diabetes educators. He was able, through the sponsorship of the CDE Foundation, to send Mrs Mara Khosa, a dietician at Tintswalo Hospital, and Mrs Kgomotso Khosa, a nursing sister at Hlokomela Clinic, to Johannesburg to attend the advanced diabetes education course.

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But this is not where Dr Nortje’s assistance ended. He continues to provide off-site support and played a crucial role in organising an AccuCheck active meter for a 5-year-old suffering from diabetes, which was delivered within 24-hours, as well as an additional twenty meters for Tintswalo Hospital.

“Although the staff is completely overwhelmed by the amount of work, they are hungry for knowledge and incredibly friendly. Even the patients are humble, friendly and unbelievably grateful. The whole experience left me in awe. I am thrilled to return, not only because of the lavish accommodation and the breathtakingly beautiful lowveld but also to continue working with the amazing people that are so desperate to learn and care for those in need.”

Dr Nortje and his wife will return in March; “I’m excited to see how the new diabetic educators are doing and my wife is keen to be involved in teaching at the preschool at Hlokomela.” When asked why medical professionals should participate in the Tshemba Foundation, he replied: “To quote Godfrey Phillips, a Tshemba Foundation director; Hennie, remember, whatever you do here will make a difference.

Join Dr Nortje on the journey to make a difference in people’s lives who are in such need of medical care. Call +27 (64) 507 5527 or visit www.tshembafoundation.org to find out more about the Tshemba Foundation.

Dentistry for everyone

Name: Dr Maria Pestana

Area of specialisation: General Dentist  

Family: Married for 27 years and has twins.

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Loads of people might be scared of visiting the dentist, but if you don’t have access to one, it’s a whole different ballgame. Dr Maria Pestana recently spent six nights at Tshemba Foundation to aid children with just that problem.

As an avid volunteer, joining the Tshemba Foundation was inevitable for Dr Pestana. “I feel very blessed to be able to help people. So, when I saw the article, I knew Tshemba might offer a very different experience; to both be able to help people in rural areas and enjoy a little bit of the bush. It’s a balance between the beauty of nature and the reality of life,” she said.

“The juxtaposition between the lodge and the medical situation was vivid; the lodge is breathtakingly beautiful while the conditions at Tintswalo Hospital are challenging. That being said, the staff was amazing; they are young and enthusiastic,” she continued.

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Because of the limitations at Tintswalo Hospital, it’s difficult to see patients and provide the services they need. Often patients can’t be seen to and are left waiting. However, at a nearby clinic, there is beautiful and unused dental equipment and two operating rooms, but no personnel trained to do restorative treatment, only extractions.

While there Dr Pestana, her son Andrea Giuricich (who is a second-year dentistry student at UP) and nurse Rosy Ribane, spent time at nearby crèches screening children between the ages of three and five. They saw about 460 children and approximately 80% of them desperately need restorative dental work. “These children have no hope of having any kind of surgical dentistry done on their teeth because there is no system for that anywhere nearby,” she commented. 

These issues prompted Dr Pestana and her fellow dental volunteers into action. They are looking to set up a dental facility or mobile clinic manned by volunteers. Christine du Preez, Hlokomela Women’s Clinic founder, has offered a room in her clinic for dental work. The dental project will require equipment, material and qualified dentists who can provide the restorative dental work so sorely needed in the area.

Dr Pestana has donated an amalgam mixing machine and is speaking to some of her colleagues about more donations. But this is not where she stopped. She contacted Colgate and asked for their assistance, and together with equipment donated from The Dental Warehouse, the Tshemba Foundation will have two fully-equipped mobile dental units from 28 May to 10 June. The aim is to screen about 2 500 children and as many adults as possible during this time.

Dental services are almost non-existent, making this opportunity a vital intervention. Resources regarding personnel and equipment are dire; thus, to make this visit successful, Tshemba is calling on volunteer dentists to assist screening children in the mornings at schools and adults in the afternoons at various clinics.

Upon stating what stood out the most for her, Dr Pestana said: “I will always remember the elephants and being stuck in an elephant-traffic jam; but most of all, the children at the crèche and their beautiful songs of thanks and anti-poaching.”

When you join the Tshemba Foundation, you will both enrich your own life and those of others. Should you like to volunteer, especially between 28 May and 10 June 2018, or want to find out more about the Tshemba Foundation, call +27 (64) 507 5527 or visit www.tshembafoundation.org

A ray of sunshine in a depleted medical world

Name: Sonja Botha

Area of specialisation: Sonographer

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Johannesburg, April – About two years ago, Sister Sonja Botha moved to Hoedspruit, and with her she brought hope.

“I started speaking to Christine [Hlokomela Women’s Clinic founder] about how I can help, even before the clinic was completed,” comments Sister Botha.

Since she started at Hlokomela Women’s Clinic, she’s not only aided women with their health issues but also hosted educational workshops for women to raise awareness of healthcare and self-examinations. Her main daily tasks consist of pap smears, blood collections and ultrasounds, and she sees on average about 60 patients per month.

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“One of the biggest issues we currently face is our referral system,” she says. “I can identify pathology, but in our immediate surrounding environment, we only have government hospitals that are challenged regarding the available staff and equipment. It’s a huge problem as about 99% of the patients I find things with need to go for biopsies.”

“Having a GP, surgeon or gynaecologist on call, even just one day a week, to help with biopsies will make the world of difference to these women. In addition, we need to work with referral hospitals close by. Currently, we’re sending women to Helen Joseph, but it’s such an immense financial burden on their already strained economic situation that it’s not viable. But, the best solution really would be to have a gynaecologist who comes through once a month or so.”

Sister Botha continues to improve her skills as she’s completed a breast ultrasound course and she attended training for abdominal scanning in March of this year. By identifying needs within the community, she is able to expand how she can assist, not just the female patients but everyone.

She continues, “It’s heart-breaking. Cancer is diagnosed and then what; there is no help for after the diagnosis. For many people it feels like a death sentence.”

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The Breast Foundation Clinic at Helen Joseph was able to open slots for two ladies in whom possible malignant cells were found. And although this is a tremendous help and support, it is six hours away, which leads to unforeseen costs. This is why it is so important that a trustworthy referral system or financial aid enabling referrals are in place. 

Suffering from cancer or experiencing a cancer scare is frightening, even more so when the support system is lacking. Join the Tshemba Foundation and help ease the suffering of those in need. Our programme is set up in such a way that you can spend your nights at a luxury 5-star lodge and bring your family along with you to share in this experience.

Find out more about how you can participate and what the Tshemba Foundation offers by calling

+27 (64) 507 5527 or visiting www.tshembafoundation.org

A nurse of gold

Name: Maureen Dunnett

Area of specialisation: Trained Nurse, specialising in Midwifery

Family: Married and has four sons and six grandchildren

Johannesburg, February – Since she can remember Sister Dunnett wanted to care for people in need. She has travelled widely to England, USA, India and Africa, and finally, she’s visited the Tshemba Foundation. Although this was a reconnaissance trip to the Tshemba Foundation programme and Hlokomela Clinic, her visit left an impression on the foundation and vice versa. In fact, she loved it so much that she’s returning for two weeks this February. “I was welcomed to the Tshemba Moditlo Lodge by Katherine, and my stay was amazing,” said Sister Dunnett.

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She was guided through the daily working programmes, which enabled her to assist wherever possible. “I was absolutely blown away by the staff. Every patient was treated with dignity and respect. It was a very special, humbling and unique experience.”

Based on her work for SAALED (Southern African Association for Learning and Educational Differences) and her experience in basic health education and project work in rural areas, Sister Dunnett is well-placed to help establish the nurses’ sector in the Tshemba Foundation programme. “Specialists can easily be used in the hospital and surrounding areas, whereas the foundation is not sure yet how to maximise the use of volunteer nurses.”

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“During my stay, I did not visit the hospital but instead travelled with the hardworking Hlokomela Clinic staff to the farms and clinics. Every day was a different experience for me. The time spent around HIV-testing and treating was highly informative.”

Sister Dunnett explored every possible way in which she could assist. From being involved with sex and farm workers’ health assistance to helping ladies knit and sew, she came to understand some of the issues needed.

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“I was able to visit places I wouldn’t normally. In one of the last villages we visited, the people had to wait in long queues for hours to collect water from a JoJo tank. I saw dear old ladies walking distances pushing wheelbarrows with containers to collect their water. Many folks have electricity but no sanitation,” she noted.

“It all depends on how involved you would like to be. There is a great need around Hoedspruit, Acornhoek and the Timbavati regions. The more frequently my husband and I visit, the more insight we’ll have as to where our services will be needed and then stay for a longer period,” Sister Dunnett concludes.

Add your voice to Sister Dunnett’s and help those in need. Bring your partner along to share in the giving during the day, while you spend your nights at a luxurious five-star lodge in the Limpopo bush. Contact the Tshemba Foundation on +27 (64) 507 5527 or visit www.tshembafoundation.org.

Tshemba Foundation teams up with Stratitude to provide new horizons for medical volunteers

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Johannesburg – An innovative local foundation is marrying the appeal of luxury accommodation and an African bush experience, with the opportunity to make a difference, to attract a different kind of visitor; one that will roll up their sleeves and work in under-resourced rural hospitals and clinics.

The Tshemba Foundation has a mission: to improve access to healthcare in low-income communities in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, while enriching the lives of the qualified medical professionals who join their volunteer programme. Integrated agency Stratitude has been appointed to handle all PR and social media requirements, and they will be working closely with the foundation to actively change the perception of medical volunteering or voluntourism.

“When done correctly, voluntourism provides communities with much-needed help, by carefully placing volunteers who have crucial skills, expertise and knowledge,” says Sylvia Schutte, managing director of Stratitude. “The Tshemba Foundation has taken a different approach to medical volunteering and their programme is planned and run by highly-qualified medical professionals. We are excited to be part of a team that is creating positive change in communities that need it the most.”

The Tshemba Foundation has combined a luxury African bush experience with a volunteer programme that is attracting doctors and healthcare professionals from South Africa and around the world. While these volunteers provide essential medical care at community hospitals and clinics, they are also expected to upskill local healthcare providers.

A unique aspect of the programme is that it provides the volunteers with a stimulating and challenging learning environment. This is because all the medical professionals are housed in the newly built, luxurious Tshemba Volunteer Centre in the Moditlo Game Reserve. It’s a tranquil, beautiful space where the volunteers can unwind, share ideas, enhance their own skills and collaborate on healthcare obstacles they encounter.

The Tshemba Foundation is changing the face of voluntourism, by giving their volunteers the opportunity to teach and learn, while treating patients and positively contributing to change in rural Limpopo and Mpumalanga.