Poverty no stumbling block in quest to help ill
Abject poverty shattered young Mabele Mtubeli’s dreams of becoming a doctor.
When he found himself jobless, surrounded by people dying of Aids and TB, he briefly considered becoming a gangster and hanging out in one of the 36 taverns in his neighbourhood.
“Then I said, no, this is not me.” Today Mtubeli, 34, runs a highly successful, free, private clinic in KwaNobuhle from his mother’s house, staffed by volunteers.
As he has no income, he also sleeps in the same house. “I am the security [guard], cleaner and manager here,” he said. Mtubeli is not paid anything for his services.
“There are days when I have no food. Then I take a walk and people always give me something to eat. I am not embarrassed about being poor.”
He said he had to leave school in Grade 10 as his family could not afford it anymore.
He enrolled for a diploma in electrical engineering at East Cape Midlands College but again had to leave because he could not pay his tuition fees.
Eventually he completed a course in project management but it was only once he started working as a volunteer branch manager at the Red Cross in Uitenhage that he discovered his true calling.
“It was in the early 2000s. It was a tough time. All around us people were dying of HIV/Aids, which was still heavily stigmatised,” Mtubeli said.
“There was no access to antiretrovirals. There was no education. The churches wouldn’t let us talk about Aids.”
“I [was] very motivated. I couldn’t give up.”
In 2013, Mtubeli again went job hunting, without success.
“The next year I contracted drugresistant TB. “My mother also had TB. The situation at home was very frustrating,” he said.
“I started an investigation to see how many others were in the same boat. “I realised that a lot of other people were ill too and there were a lot of people defaulting on their medication”
“Then I realised that our area was very dirty. Raw sewage was running down the street. People were dumping rubbish everywhere. “That was when I knew I had to do something to save the lives of people from Ward 47.”
Mtubeli went to see a group of retired nurses.
“They said I had no resources. I said I believe you have the responsibility to give back.”
In a few short weeks Mtubeli got a governing board together for his clinic and obtained the services of 25 volunteers.
After 18 months the “Blue Light Clinic” has become one of the Bay’s biggest volunteer organisations.
“For me, blue is a sign of help,” he said.
Today, Mtubeli has 57 volunteers working with him. He said as part of the provincial Department of Health’s outreach programme they received TB medicine, vaccinations and HIV medication to distribute to the community.
“We are also now accredited to do HIV testing,” he said.
Volunteers at the clinic also do educational campaigns at nine school and distribute condoms atWard 47’s 36 taverns.
Mtubeli also runs a support group for men diagnosed with HIV/Aids.
“We are making great progress. They are even at a point where they are sharing their status with their girlfriends.”
He said they recently received offers of financial assistance from the ABC Trust and Standard Bank.
“We do blood and blood sugar tests at people’s homes so we want to buy equipment for that,” he said.
“We also need a cooler box for the blood samples we collect when we do HIV testing. “In the beginning people asked me: ‘How long will you last? Who is going to work in this clinic of yours?’ “In the past 18 months we have diagnosed and treated 87 schoolchildren with TB.”
“We have 55 patients with multi-drug-resistant TB, I am proud to say 20 of them completed their treatment.”
“We have screened 1 588 patients for diabetes and hypertension. We trace, counsel and treat 442 patients who defaulted on their TB treatment. We have vaccinated 450 babies.”
“Some days I have to put up a tent we have so many people. “I dream of making this a big health centre. I will take any opportunity that comes my way and learn as much as I can.”
“My mom’s name is Thobeka Maqoma. She is a single mom who raised five children. She could never find a job. ”
“She lives with my sister now. This is her house. She is very proud.”
Gloria Pfoko, 58, who started the clinic with Mtubeli, said: “I loved working with him from the beginning. I know him from when he was growing up.”
“We volunteered at the Red Cross together. I used to visit him when he got TB as well. “He is very selfless. He is very good with children and is always helping them. He never does anything for himself. ”
“He is very bright. If he came from a rich family he would have a very high job. “He comes to ask me for food sometimes. Often he would not have eaten anything that day.”
“He has made a very big difference in our community. Before . . . there was nobody who helped the people.”
Provincial health spokesman Siyanda Manana said Mtubeli’s programme was helping the department a lot.
“They do great work. They also refer patients to the Department of Health’s clinic and are a valued partner in its outreach programme,” he said.
“They work very closely with the community and that is a major benefit to us.”