It is said that innovation is the mother of all inventions. That rare ability to conceive an idea, grow and nurture it to realisation stage. Lynette Coetzee, the driving force of the Phelophepa health care train, remains a constant reminder that where there is a will, there will always be a way.
An unwavering believer in the motto “if you can dream it, you can achieve it”, she remains, in real sense, the mother of the Phelophepa project. It was through her unshakable leadership and strength that South Africa was able to produce the world’s first primary health care hospital on wheels.
Lynette has always been involved with trains and the railway. Her father worked for the railways, and when she was just 16, she started working at Transnet as a data capturer.
In 1990 she was approached by Transnet to start working in the Corporate Social Investment (CSI) division of Transnet, and she accepted – a challenge that changed the course of her life.
Her work in the CSI division exposed her to the very real needs of her fellow South Africans, especially those in the deeper rural areas. And it was this compassion that contributed to the creation of Phelophepa.
It was in 1992 that the idea of the train came to her mind. Through a partnership with the University of Johannesburg, Transnet got the project off the ground and launched a rolling eye clinic. This clinic was a success, but it was the on-going health needs in the rural communities gave rise to the idea of a health care train. Lynette took this idea and turned into a reality, again.
Phelophepa 1 was launched on Monday 13 January 1994 and since then has helped more than 3 million people. From the start, Lynette has been involved in all aspects – from getting to know everyone and encouraging development to becoming the resident “mother” to the rolling family of professionals.
“She is the train in many ways. She is the spirit of the train,” says Lynette’s friend, Marlene Neumann.
Through her position, Lynette was able to turn this project into something innovative. “She always finds a way to get around things, to make it happen. She’s made such a difference…” says Marlene.
But for Lynette, this wonderful dream wouldn’t have been possible without team work and support from friends and family. “A project like this,” she says, “is not a solo-flight.”