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Lillian Nomathemba Cingo

The Healing Woman

Lillian Cingo is an internationally acclaimed neuropsychologist from the rural Eastern Cape. Her trajectory from South Africa into exile, and back again, has been fuelled by a commitment to service.

She has received multiple awards but the accolades are secondary to a life dedicated to duty. At the age of 85, she is still empowering people in rural areas.

Born in 1938, Dr Lillian set her heart on studying neurosurgery and psychology, an impossible quest for a black woman in apartheid South Africa so, in 1966, she left for Britain. The apartheid regime refused to renew her passport and for five years Dr Lillian was stateless.

After apartheid, she returned to be at the forefront of ground-breaking initiatives to bring healthcare to neglected areas of South Africa. From 1995 to 2008 she was the manager of the Phelophepa Health Train, which provides people in rural areas with holistic medical treatment.

It was the Phelophepa model of personalised, empathetic healthcare that drew Dr Lillian to another pioneering programme, One to One, where she is a board member and participates in programmes. One To One spearheads the distribution of antiretrovirals to HIV-positive families.

In addition, women in the Mentor Mothers’ Programme are trained as community healthcare workers. The Early Childhood Development and Mentor Brothers programmes trains healthcare workers in the province’s health department.

Together with Dr Lillian people living in rural areas are guided towards empowerment through compassion, practical support and motherly mentorship.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

You are good as you are at nine years: get on with it and go far, further than all expectations.

Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?

I help empower women and men by training them in basic health, HIV and Aids and getting them to discuss their problems. I encourage them and to help them understand that they are part of the universe — something greater — and not just their townships or villages.

If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?

I would make sure that girls and all youth are sufficiently trained to be assets to the country in a wide variety of vocations.