Train of Hope

Way over in the rural northeast of South Africa, locals from remote villages such as Hluhluwe and Jozini will make a trek over to the town of Mkuze some time around the last week of July. Mkuze is quite far from any of the country’s three capitals, and even from the largest city, Johannesburg, which is about a 300 mile (480 km) drive. As a result of this, the people of the town and its satellites may feel a similar isolation from the thoughts of the nation’s interests as they do with the physical distance away from most of their countrymen.

But during the last week of July, hundreds, perhaps even thousands, will come from all over and descend upon Mkuze. They will come waiting for a train, but not one that will take them closer to the busy hubs of their country or one that will whisk them away on a fun adventure. They will come simply for a pair of glasses, inoculations, prescription medicines, and dental exams, and they will wait in line for days for a chance to get what they so desperately need.

South Africa has made great strides to overcome racism and other cultural and social problems that have plagued them, and they are by no means cured. And while the government is trying to make care and treatment for more physical maladies affordable and accessible, the remote areas such as Hluhluwe and Jozini often become overlooked and underserved. Today, there is an average of about one doctor for every 4,000 to 5,000 people living in these rural areas.

Phelophepa, suitably called the Train of Hope, is the nonprofit organization that bridges this gap, providing quality health services and care to these low-income, rural communities of South Africa.

Begun in 1994 with only 3 train cars and a zeal to help those that need it most, Phelophepa has grown into an all-encompassing clinic-on-rails with 2 separate trains of 18 cars. The Train of Hope provides numerous services, including a health clinic, a dental clinic, an optometrist, counseling programs for drug abuse and HIV/AIDS, a pharmacy, and a psychology clinic, and their main goal remains screening and education, helping their patients become aware of their own health. For 37 weeks out of each year, the train will make its way through South Africa, stopping at dozens of small towns and staying anywhere from four days to two weeks at each. With the addition of the second train as of last year, the organization, a division of the Transnet Foundation, will be able to serve more than 100,000 people each year.

On board the Train of Hope, there is the psychologist, doctors and nurses, medical students working as interns, and even a point team that travels ahead of the train, alerting the locals at its upcoming stops of the train’s arrival. Since its inception in 1994, more than 450,000 patients have been treated within the cars of Phelophepa, 600,000 children have been screened and educated, and more than 7,000 students have completed voluntary work on the train. Phelophepa means “good, clean health” in the Tswana and Sotho dialects, and it seems to live up to its name.

How You Can Help…

Though the Train of Hope has some sponsors behind it, they face an ever-increasing need to reach more and more people and to replenish their inventory. You can help by contributing to their donation drive – a $5 donation pays for a pair of eyeglasses for an individual, to put it in perspective (no pun intended). But right now, several major backers of Phelophepa have put together a package that will go to one lucky donor.

One winning donor will receive:

  • 4 nights at the exclusive One and Only Hotel – Cape Town
  • 3 nights in Devonvale Golf & Wine Estate – Wine Route
  • 3 nights safari at the private Simbambili Safari Lodge
  • 2 nights in the historic Cradle of Life Bio-Park
  • 1 day aboard the Train of Hope

All adventure activities are included for the winner and one partner including: hot air ballooning, shark diving, paragliding, whale-watching and sandboarding. This is an all-inclusive, two-week vacation for two including international business class airline tickets and all internal flights!

Photos taken by Aletta Ferreira, Jeremy Glyn, and Roxanne Klein; shot at Bergville, Mathubathuba and Crossmoor.