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An amazing journey: From SOS child to UK trainee surgeon

Nokwanda and her husband Jean Louis on holiday this year
Nokwanda and her husband Jean Louis on holiday this year

Nokwanda Dlamini's journey from the SOS Children's Village Mbabane, Swaziland, to a practising Cambridgeshire surgeon has been a long and exciting one. Former SOS UK Trustee David Stranack finds out more...

As Dr. Nokwanda Dlamini cares for her patients today at Peterborough City Hospital, few of them would believe that 20 years ago she was herself being cared for in the SOS Children’s Village at Mbabane in the small African country of Swaziland.

A dramatic change in Nokwanda's life

Nokwanda is the second youngest in a family of six sisters. Her life changed dramatically in 1987 when a serious illness led to her mother’s death. Nokwanda was just eight years old. Her father struggled trying to look after his daughters on his own, and it became a more and more impossible task. There had to be another solution. At the time SOS Children were building their first Children’s Village in Swaziland, at a place called Mbabane. Discussions took place and it was eventually agreed that Nokwanda and three of her sisters would move into the Village.

Nokwanda Classic Response
Nokwanda tells her story at the 2006 Classic Response concert, The Royal Albert Hall
Nokwanda has little recollection of her life immediately before the move. “No matter how hard I try to remember, I can’t," she says. But it was a sad and difficult time. Nevertheless, the prospect of leaving her own home to start a new life in a completely strange environment must have been daunting, but at least she had the company of three of her sisters to keep her going. Nokwanda moved into her new home at Mbabane, along with her sisters and two other children, just before Christmas in 1989, although the SOS Children's Village was not officially opened until the following year.


At first the atmosphere in the new Village was tense and uncertain, with both the children and the newly trained SOS mothers grappling to come to terms with their new environment. So, with the number of children now nearly 50, it was decided to hold a Christmas party. It was a great success, and a big step forward in bonding the Village into a single community. In fact, Nokwanda only remained in the house and family of her Village Mum, Phillipine, for four years.

At the age of 14 she was growing up fast and it was decided that the time was right for her to move on to the SOS Youth Home – just across the road from the main Village. Although the youngsters in the Youth Home were supervised by an ‘Auntie’, Nokwanda revelled in the greater freedom and independence her new environment provided – not least the easier access to television!

Intellectually gifted

The Mbabane Children's Village incorporated both primary and secondary schools, which were attended by Nokwanda and the other children of the Village, as well as many children from the surrounding communities. But it soon became clear that Nokwanda was an intellectually gifted child and it was decided that she should move on to become a full-time student at SOS Children's first International College located at Tema in Ghana. The college, a new venture for SOS Children and open to talented SOS children from all over Africa, had only been in operation since 1990 and its aim was to provide further education for youngsters who were deemed to be “top of the crop”.

And so, at the age of 16, Nokwanda was introduced to a new lifestyle. She studied at the college for four years, only returning home to Mbabane for a few weeks at a time. She inevitably began to think about career opportunities, and was considering the nursing profession. But sometimes it is the small things which determine the future course of our lives. On one occasion she was being driven back to the airport by Rogers, the then Mbabane Village father who, as they talked, said, “Why don’t you become a doctor? You could do it. Go for it.” So the seed was sown, and that became Nokwanda’s career ambition.

Choosing a career path

Graduating from the International College in 1999, she started a BSc course in biochemistry and pharmacology at Southampton University here in the UK. At first she thought this might lead her to a career in medical research, but then decided she preferred working with people rather than in laboratories, so pressed on to become a fully qualified doctor.

More children have found a home at SOS Children's Village Mbabane, Swaziland
More children have found a home at SOS Children's Village Mbabane, Swaziland.

An early involvement in general practice hadn’t appealed too much, so Nokwanda – never one to rest on her laurels – decided to train as a surgeon, a decision which has led her to where she is today – a member of the general surgery team at Peterborough City Hospital. 

Back in her childhood days Nokwanda’s SOS mum took her and her Village siblings to church every Sunday, and she has been a committed Christian ever since. She believes that God has had a significant influence on her life – “I think my life is a miracle. There are not many people who can say that, having lost their natural family as a child, they have gone on to make great progress in their own lives. I thank God for the opportunities he has made for me. I am grateful to Him and to all the people in my life who have made things possible.”

And now, as a successful career in surgery opens up for her in the UK, Nokwanda keeps well in touch with her roots. She frequently communicates with her village Mum, Phillipine, at Mbabane, and visits her and her current ‘family’ whenever she can. She also talks often to her ‘natural’ sisters who are all now pursuing their own careers in Swaziland and South Africa.

Perhaps life is indeed a miracle.

Read more about our projects in Swaziland