Harry Truman- former US president famously said “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t mind who gets the credit”.
Victor Fredlund’s life bears testimony to this truth. He came to South Africa as a mission doctor straight after internship in London. He was part of a team of two. One doctor in the hospital and one doctor at the clinics. His heart for people quickly made him realise that he could help so much more if he became involved in the social circumstances people were living in which inspired him to start a community Co-Op called “Vuka Mabaso”, an organisation of which he remains the chairman up to this day.
Under his leadership this organisation has impacted just about every sphere of community life around him. Some of the first big projects were to build toilets and teach basic sanitation, later to pump water from the nearby Lake Sibayi, and instead of just supplying the hospital he designed the system to reticulate through the community (long before any political party or municipality ever said anything!). They moved on to build roads, create community gardens (up to 15 functional at one point), have community tractors for ploughing people’s fields, building classrooms, building a 1000-seater community hall, a computer centre, sports facilities, a local market, launch youth employment projects and most recently a finishing school for local children from the district who need to improve their Maths, Science and English marks in order to get into tertiary education. Dr Fredlund has always had an interest in education and improving the plight of rural children. He was the pioneer of the idea to get funding in order to create scholarships for rural children, a concept further developed by the Mthombo Youth Development fund, and very successfully so! His own life was never going to be in his own ivory tower of comfort in a sea of heartache and distress. His heart has always been with the suffering – hence his involvement (together with his formidable little wife, Rachel) in the care of countless orphans. The Mseleni Children’s Home has been under their care since their arrival in 1980, and the phenomenal “Lulisandla Kumtwana” project –which at one stage had more than 3000 registered orphans under their care has been an offshoot of this great work.
His home was never going to be his own: he has probably had 50+ children from the local community live in his house semi-permanently over the 35 years he has been serving the community. Some staying only for months, others for years. Most of these children they nursed through the challenges that kids from broken homes and destitute backgrounds face. Disappointments, suffering, heartaches and tears seem to never be far off from the lives he has chosen to mix his with. Together they have sponsored the school/university fees and living expenses of countless children – a small cost, compared to the huge challenge of keeping the lives of the young people growing up in his house on the path of life. Not only does he have several local children at his table every night but almost always a mix of foreign students or volunteers or anybody else who needs a bed for the night. It’s a conservative estimation to say they probably put up at least one hundred and fifty people per year in their large wooden house –which he built himself!
Victor connects himself to people a lot through music. His guitar travels everywhere with him, and even the petrol attendants on the N2 highway often enquire after him – “when is he coming around again to play some songs for them?” Few people can brag that the MEC for Health acted as his microphone stand at a meeting when the said MEC was late and Victor started singing for the Hospital managers etc. awaiting the MEC’s arrival!
Victor is of course also known for the hospital he runs. Mseleni has been the place where he has poured his heart out in medicine. He is one of the most capable and competent clinicians in rural medicine in South Africa. Apart from a few pet likes like cardiology ; he has a knack for surgery, and with that, the guts to go for it. He famously did his first hysterectomy from a book, and has sometimes to the consternation of surgeons, had to phone them during operations to ask advice, for example “Where should I implant the ureter?”. He is brave (with a capital B) and has nerves of steel. I know he must have panicked on occasion but I have never seen it affect his surgery. “Ectomies” and “Otomies”- he’s probably done most of them. He does regular lists of Hernias, Hysterectomies and Total Hip Replacements; but has also done from the phenomenal to the outrageous! How about a trauma craniotomy with a Trephine for lack of Burrs! Who else can brag three full term extra-uterine deliveries of which the incidence is estimated at 1 in 30 000? We have known him as a passionate medical intellectual, for whom only the latest “Up to Date” will do, balanced with the maturity of experience that only comes from years of experience.
When I said he “poured out his heart” I really meant that! He will be the first to tell you that his life at Mseleni has been an adventure, but he has also had to face some incredibly difficult times. He is a friend of his Saviour who is a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. Yet you will hear him talk of HOPE! He lives with a determination to do good and often says he’ll do something out of his way because “I came here to help”.
The epitomisation of humble, loving service – that’s Victor Fredlund.
The RuDASA Lifetime Achievement Award was sponsored by Discovery Health.
Victor was unable to attend the Awards, but sent his acceptance speech which was read by Dr Kobus Viljoen from Mseleni.
Acceptance speech for Lifetime Achievement Award RuDASA 2016
It is with a great sense of honour I receive this award from my friends and colleagues who have walked a long path of rural health over the many years. When I started at Mseleni in 1981 our hospitals had few doctors and therapists were like diamonds scattered just here and there! Sometimes it seemed that just getting to the end of the day was a great achievement! But in the north end of KwaZulu the different hospitals spurred each other on with a radio call up journal club and occasional Saturday meetings with consultants flying up from Durban. Today’s levels of staffing and communication systems seemed ridiculously unlikely!
When I suggested piped water in the homes of Mseleni in the late 1980’s even the young people thought I was smoking something!
When Jenny Nash and I started preparing school children from our rural health ward for medical school applications I don’t think even they thought it would happen! When we started hip surgery in a rural hospital? Opened a high care?
When we tried to get Family medicine and rural health together to get some form of specialist recognition that too seemed like a science fiction idea.
And 20 years into RuDASA conferences – how they have grown!
In 2012, encouraged by a gift from the family of the late Dr Christoph Meyer who had done so much for hip sufferers of Mseleni we opened a Maths and Science centre. Four years later all the students of surrounding schools are coming for science practicals and seeing test tubes and ammeters in reality for the first time!
What a privilege I have had to see the love of God poured out through the lives of so many into the lives of others in the community. To see people who believe we can achieve together and who have entered into the needs and experiences of others so as to solve problems – loving their neighbours as themselves. The rural health community has been an inspiration.
In the recent turmoil at Mseleni hospital how amazing it was to be called to the home of our Nkosi (traditional leader – king) for him and his family to PRAY for the missionary and the work of the hospital!
Why do I mention these things?
To give you hope!
Don’t see things just as they are. See them as they could be! Dream, dream , dream! And then do the little bit you can do!
The title of this award is a little worrying though!
I am still hoping that I have not yet completed my lifetime achievements!
I am still dreaming! I still believe that God can transform communities.
I am still dreaming that the caring attitudes of rural health can permeate the whole of the South African health care!
I’m still dreaming of ‘a job for everyone’ and a community realising its true potential.
I’m still dreaming of access to education.
I’m still dreaming of a rurally enriched university in which students are no longer alienated from their own homes and families but are integrated in the community for maximum benefit. Bringing the rural riches into the academic settings across the world!
Let’s make it happen!
31st July 2016
(from a RuDASA circular email 12 August 2016)