Dawn of a brave new kind of tourism

Published Sep 9, 2017


“Dung beetles have a right of way, do not drive over dung beetles or elephant dung”, reads the green signage board as you enter Moditlo Private Game Reserve.

Situated in the heart of the bushveld, where thistle bushes, tall shrubs and trees grow wild and free; dung beetles aren’t the only species whose entrance in and around the reserve, is prized.

In fact the luxurious Tshemba Volunteer Centre, newly nestled in the reserve, is home to a new kind of tourism attraction that is drawing in medical professionals from within the country’s boarders and beyond.

“Volunteering I guess means different things for different generations of people but the fundamental core of it is to give something back... and to do good for others for less than full reward”, Professor John Gear, Tshemba Foundation’s chief medical officer, said, explaining the concept that is the backbone of the centre.

The programme aims to give a boost to the much-needed medical services for the local Mpumalanga and Limpopo communities while also harbouring the professionals in a plush base.

This is where they can unwind and be one with the bushveld and unfenced wildlife right outside their bungalow doorsteps.

The centre - which offers luxury accommodation for up to 18 volunteers in nine stand-alone chalets, plus additional accommodation for up to four volunteers in the communal house - was opened earlier this year.

It is the brainchild of the foundation founders Neil Tabatznik and Godfrey Phillips.

The idea is to get the volunteers to work predominantly at the 435-bed Tintswalo Hospital - a Department of Health district hospital which services around 300 000 people, yet is plagued by the common struggles in the public health sector such as staff and resource shortages.

With only 9 of the over 50 doctor posts filled, doctors are under strain to provide adequate health care to the 10 000 patients that visit the hospital every month.

“The inequality of health care between the urban and rural areas is so extreme that it was just not possible to turn a blind eye to it when I first witnessed it during a visit to the area,” Tabatznik explained. “It was heartbreakingly clear to me that the disparity of treatment means that the difference between living and dying is based solely on where an individual lives. To me, this is utterly unconscionable,” Tabatznik continued.

Five volunteer medical professionals have already been placed this year at this hospital through the programme.

Phillips - who worked at Young & Rubicam in New York for nearly 20 years, specialising in strategic development, and now serves as the foundation’s chief operating officer, said the lodge also offered him and other specialists a space for spiritual healing and connection.

“During the height of the student uprisings, white doctors were no longer allowed access in the townships. I didn’t want to leave but I couldn’t stay in the country while so much social injustice carried on. So this (the lodge), closes the loop... being here helps us do the things were supposed to have done all those years ago - to help the community”, he said.

Medical volunteers are also placed at the Tshemba Women’s Clinic at Hlokomela - a health-care centre a little outside of Hoedspruit.

“Having been closely and then loosely associated with Tintswalo Hospital since 1979, I can truly say that this volunteer programme is the long sought for light at the end of a tunnel that has the potential to radically improve the quality of care on offer,” Gear added. “This is not because of poor doctoring locally but because those who have chosen to give their professional lives are strained to breaking point, are starved of outside input and support, and are frustrated by their inability to deliver the sort of service their patients hope for and expect.”

One such professional who has taken a year off of his retirement to be a part of the programme is Dr Carl Fatti.

A “late-starter” in medicine, Fatti, 70, began in the profession at the age of 30.

Despite his retirement in 2012 - Fatti still feels the need to give back and extend his service in the field.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to work again as a retired doctor... It’s not easy to retire especially for me who had a shorter medical experience than most. I enjoy teaching the clinical associates at the hospital (Tintswalo), it is stimulating and I think the lodge is a great idea and means a lot for the community as the hospital is short-staffed and our help is welcomed, and I too can come back and relax (in the lodge). I really love the place”, he added.

Medical practitioners can find out more by visiting the Tshemba Foundation website at www.tshembafoundation.org or by emailing Tshemba’s medical recruitment officer Barbara McGorian on [email protected]

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