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21 Icons: Dr. Lillian Cingo

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The doctor prescribes laughter. One of the most qualified and experienced nurses in the country, Dr. Lillian Cingo shares her memories and health tips with 21 Icons project creator Adrian Steirn.

 

A tribute to her impact on the healthcare of South Africans, the iconic nurse and counselling psychologist is the fifth icon revealed in the 21 Icons project. In her videographic interview, she prescribes laughter to project creator Adrian Steirn.

 

"Laughter is crucial," she says. "You know if you laugh as you all know the body produces endorphins and then you become a better person. You heal by laughter. Sometimes you don’t even need treatment because you smiled and as you smiled I give you my smile and in my smile I give you health and if you give the other person (a smile) then you give them health and together we have a healthy nation." 

 

But what Dr. Cingo is best known for, is no laughing matter: her contribution to uplifting community healthcare. From 1995 to 2008, she ran Transnet's Phelophepa health train providing medical services to rural communities. With her 'naughty twin' Lynette Coetzee, they travelled South Africa nine months of the year. Dr. Cingo even had to learn how to drive the train in case of emergency! The train operates as a mobile hospital providing vital healthcare to under-served communities. 

 

"Working with rural communities was a wonderful experience for me, but also it just reinforced for me the need for South Africans to realise just how awful things are for rural people," Dr. Cingo tells Steirn. "Just how awful things are for rural teachers, for health professionals, for every child and youth and adult and old person how difficult things are, and yet we expect them to succeed."

 

The recipient of numerous awards and honorary doctorates, a young Dr. Cingo's professor advised her to gain education in neurosurgery in the United Kingdom because, being black, she would never be trained in this field in South Africa. She spent thirty years in London training in medical and paramedical fields and went on to study at the esteemed Travistock college. 

 

It was here she clinked a glass of champagne with her Scottish professor when Nelson Mandela was released – allowing her to finally return home. But not before she met the Queen of England, when she was nominated, twice, as Nurse of the Year as Best Neurosurgical Nurse Specialist.

 

Albeit no longer by railway, Dr. Cingo's work continues to this day. She currently represents the board of healthcare organisation Noah – a body that supports and nurtures orphans and children with HIV and Aids.

 

"I just would like more being done," she says. "I’m not saying it’s not being done, we just need to do so much more. There are so many people already doing, people in South Africa of all colours are doing fantastic work, but we just need to do so much more."

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"Working with rural communities was a wonderful experience for me, but also it just reinforced for me the need for South Africans to realise just how awful things are for rural people."
Daniel Blazquez

Nadine Theron

Nadine Theron is mblife's features writer / researcher and a retired roller derby girl.
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