The cabbie counsellor: Office on the move

Credit: Rofhiwa Maneta

“My medium term goal is to have ten of these,” says 28-year-old Banetsi Mphunga, tapping on the steering wheel of his minibus taxi. His spectacles are pushed up to his forehead as he drives down Steve Biko Road in Khayelitsha. He narrows his eyes to tiny slits, against the sun’s glare and assesses the traffic before making his way around a roundabout. “I’d be able to reach so many more people. Treatment wouldn’t just be restricted to Khayelitsha.”

A little over three months ago Mphunga decided he wanted to address the lack of psychology clinics in Cape Town’s townships. It was while working at a youth programme in the area that he realised how many high school students were struggling with psychological problems, often by themselves.

“Some of them were expressing problems they’ve had for up to eight years. When they approached their schools for counselling, the response time was anything from two weeks to three months. That’s way too long. Some of these problems needed immediate attention.”

Credit: Rofhiwa Maneta
Credit: Rofhiwa Maneta

At the time, Mphunga — a registered psychological counsellor — was in the process of opening his own private clinic. He decided to use the R28 000 ($2,000) in his savings account to buy a minibus taxi, known locally as a combi, which he’s transformed into a mobile psychology clinic.

The taxi travels to schools, parks and homes offering free counselling and life skills sessions to people in his neighbourhood. “A combi is spacious enough to hold a consultation, so I figured that would be the easiest way to reach as many people as possible.”

The counselling sessions take place at the back of the combi where Mphunga and his patients sit opposite each other. However, he says, the minibus sessions are only an entry point to formalised counselling sessions in his office in Mandela Park. “I realised that if I don’t have an office I report to, people won’t take this seriously. So I don’t run the sessions in taxi indefinitely. Just once or twice to break the ice and establish rapport with the patients.”

“There’s a clear shortage of psychological treatments in townships. I want to offer counselling to 500 kids a month”

Mphunga has already hosted a few informal sessions in his taxi, but says the minibus still needs some improvement. “The interior still needs work,” he says pointing to a patch on the ceiling that’s begun peeling. “Last week, I took the combi in for mechanical repairs. Now I need to tint the windows for client confidentiality, add some air conditioning and have it reupholstered. It’s all coming together slowly.”

In the long term, Mphunga envisions having 50 minibuses dotted across the country’s townships. He currently has a funder looking to sponsor his second mobile clinic and hopes this will be the spark that gets the fire going. “My plan is to provide counselling to at least 500 kids a month. There’s a clear shortage of psychological treatment across the country’s townships and I hope to address that.”

Via. Red Bull Amaphiko

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