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Phelophepa experience as a final year dentistry student

16 April 2024

Final-year dentistry student Dian Kenny shares his experience with South Africa's famous Phelophepa - a unique hospital train that travels through the most rural areas providing affordable healthcare for those in need.


At the beginning of March nine of us, final-year dentistry students from UWC, embarked on a journey that would change the way we see healthcare. Leaving the busy Cape Town Airport behind, we hopped on a plane bound not for vacation, but for Empangeni, a quiet town near Richards Bay.

When we landed at King Shaka Airport, we were greeted by Phelophepa drivers, ready to take us to Empangeni. Despite feeling tired, the excitement of our mission filled us with energy.

Our goal was simple: to bring dental care to a community that needed it. Day after day, we saw long lines of patients, each hoping for relief from dental problems. But our work didn't stop at the clinic; we also visited schools, teaching kids about taking care of their teeth.

As we worked, we felt a mix of emotions. We were eager to help, but we also faced challenges. Some patients needed more care than we could give. We could only do uncomplicated fillings, cleanings, and extractions. It was hard, but it reminded us of the big gap in healthcare.

Looking back on our time there, we found comfort in the friendships we made and the difference we had made, even if it was small. Dealing with problems like language barriers and train breakdowns showed us how important it is to be flexible and work together.

Our time with Phelophepa also showed us the bigger picture. We learned about the problems of corruption and inequality in healthcare. It made us want to fight for fairness and transparency in healthcare.

As we headed home, we felt a sense of purpose. Our journey with Phelophepa wasn't just about fixing teeth; it was about connecting with people, overcoming challenges, and leaving a positive mark on their lives.