In 2011 Rotary launched a large scale health campaign aimed at providing much needed immunisations and health checks to disadvantaged communities in four nations in Africa and a part of India. Since it was introduced to South Africa in 2013, the Rotary Family Health Day initiative has provided tens of thousands of patients with free, comprehensive health care screenings, counselling and referral services. The South African government aims "to [strengthen] health care systems by taking services closer to the people who need them the most" and this three day event is the very vehicle needed to address preventable disease and provide health care education.
The Rotary Club of Morningside has been actively involved in Rotary Family Health Days since they were first introduced to South Africa in 2013. One of our members reflects on her experience of the event, one of the first big projects she was involved in, as a newly-fledged Rotarian.
Championing the First South African-Based Rotary Family Health Day
I was still wet about the ears as a Rotarian back in 2013. So, imagine my surprise when Sue Paget [CEO of RFHA Inc] herself asked me to be the champion of the first ever Rotary Family Health Days event for our club, the Rotary Club of Morningside.
I accepted with more than a little trepidation. I had never championed anything of this magnitude before, either as a Rotarian or otherwise, and felt I was way out of my comfort zone. The way Sue explained it, I was signing up to coordinate and host a three-day health festival in a neighbouring under-resourced community. Our club picked the informal settlement of Diepsloot, an area I had never so much as set foot in before, but in which I would soon become a familiar face.
I soon set to work with my spreadsheets and to-do lists. There was a lot to be done! Partners and volunteers had to be briefed, designated site was required, a marquee needed booked (or at least 20 gazebos for the health professionals to administer their services). Marketing in the community, engaging community stakeholders: the clinic, the churches, the Health Departments (both national and provincial, who don’t talk it seems), the Ward Councillors, the creches and the schools. There were ablution facilities, garbage cans, signage, water and snacks for volunteers, entertainment for the kids, a jumping castle? The list went on…
Finally, [having learnt the hard way how to delegate], after numerous meetings, site visits, phone calls, laughter, tears, the first day of the event arrived. The people started to queue up for their free health services among gale force winds and flying gazebos. But those with some patience would find they could get everything from a free pair of shoes, to a compassionate ear, basic check-ups including vitals and blood pressure, children’s inoculations, HIV testing, TB screening, addiction, anxiety and depression counselling, eye tests, hearing tests, plus a ton of entertainment extras: from the local radio station to a dance crew, face painting, and of course the promised jumping castle (which had to be taken down for being too popular with the kids and therefore hazardous).
We had a soccer clinic for the kids with Bafana Bafana soccer legend John "Shoes" Lesiba Moshoeu taking to the streets of Diepsloot on the back of a bakkie with a loudhailer inviting the community to pull through for their free health checks. We even had the privilege of delivering donated wheelchairs from the Buddhist Light International Association to needy beneficiaries stuck deep within the community.
The three days were full-on, dusty, exhausting, but loads of fun and incredibly heart-warming for all the volunteers. It was an honour to be a part of an initiative administering a touch of love to those who so seldom get this sort of attention. In total, 1100 people saw various health professionals and got some help for their various health issues. Over 20 organisations came on board, at no charge, aside from those that were involved via the greater nationwide campaign, from chiropractors, to orthopaedic surgeons, St Johns Ambulances, to SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group) and SANCA (South African National Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse).
The pilot event established and strengthened our relations with the community organisations in Diepsloot, a community we came back to year after year for the annual RFHD events that followed.
For me it offered a sharp learning curve in project management and an enormous privilege to work with so many great organisations and individuals committed to helping those in need. I was pleased to be able to test the model, and supply the proof that the RDHF recipe does indeed produce a pudding, and a sweet one at that.