Eastern Cape, South Africa
"There are times in life that you have to leave your comfort zone and explore other avenues. When I received the news about the opportunity of the mobile van, I was happy and scared at the same time. I could not sleep that night, thinking I heard the caller incorrectly," said Veronica Ntlokondala, a registered nurse operating Unjani Clinic Dutywa.
Unjani Clinics is a network of 100 primary healthcare clinics in South Africa providing much-needed access to medical care to low-income communities—particularly those caught between the gap of earning too much to qualify for government-assisted health care and those who are uninsured and cannot afford care. Ford South Africa donated two Transit panel vans to Unjani Clinics NPC and Ford Motor Company Fund provided $76,000 USD / ZAR 1.1 million to convert the vans into medical units, train the nurses and their assistants and cover additional costs to provide services to an estimated 2,750 people.
Unjani, translated as "how are you?" in Zulu and Xhosa, strives not only to provide healthcare to underserved communities but also to empower local health care workers, chiefly Black women nurses, by creating jobs. The Unjani Clinic network has created more than 390 permanent jobs and has empowered more than 100 women nurses. Ntlokondala is one of two nurses trained to operate the mobile medical units donated by Ford.
"I am grateful to Ford and Unjani Clinics for believing in me and also for thinking about the poor rural communities of the Eastern Cape that are benefitting from this initiative," Ntlokondala said. "I feel strongly that women empowerment is long overdue. Men have taken the space for a long time. When you empower women, the whole nation benefits because we are strong. We have natural empathy."
Ntlokondala spent two decades researching much-needed HIV treatment and prevention, where 20 percent of the adult population in South Africa lives with HIV. In 2019, she opened Unjani Clinic Dutywa to provide primary care to people in need. Her mobile [van] patients—she sees 15 to 20 people a day—receive basic physical examinations, pap smears, blood tests and other essential care.
"I am also responsible for the day-to-day activities of the mobile unit. It's a beautiful van, a state-of-the-art conversion. The mobile [van] is now known by the communities, and the numbers are increasing," she said. "I took a salary cut. But when you believe in yourself, you trust your decision. I knew this was an opportunity I could not miss. Reaching out to the neglected communities and those that are unable to access quality health care is such a fulfilling feeling."