Profile – Ubuntu, the way of the heart

2010-06-02 08:54

Marie Ngameni cuts a broad smile as she gently extends her hand in

a warm greeting.

Her unassuming and gracious character veils a keen sense of humour,

which ripples through the colloquial South Africanisms that pepper her


As we begin talking, she immediately expresses gratitude to her

grandmother and the times they spent together under the Baobab tree in her

native Cameroon.

Ngameni says: “Coming from a country with a strong oral tradition,

the Baobab tells me about a gathering. As a child, we’d get together in the

evening at the ‘arbre a palabre’ (the tree where we talk) and our elders and

cousins would tell stories. We’d also tell stories and beat drums, and those who

could dance would dance, not me though, I was a clapper! They are magical

memories which I hold dear.”

She continues in reflective mood: “On a more serious note, when

there an issue in the community, people would come together to sort it out but

that doesn’t really happen any more. Now, people take their grievances straight

to court. It’s sad, really.”

Born and educated in Cameroon, Ngameni has seen the impact of what

she terms “modernity” on the strong community bond that she grew up knowing.

A wife and mother of two, she lived in the US and Swaziland before

moving to South Africa with her family 12 years ago.

The disconnection and loneliness she experienced during her stint

in New York, a bustling city of anonymity, is still a painful memory for


However, when her feet touched African soil in Swaziland, she

revelled in the open-hearted welcome she received and celebrated being back in


She recalls: “In New York, I was so isolated. I learnt that the

world doesn’t belong to you – you sink or you swim. There, I learnt


‘‘In Swaziland, I was the director of Alliance Française and in

trying to sell French to the Swazis, I had to become resourceful and creative.

All the places I have lived in have touched me in one way or another but none

like my own country and South Africa.”

Ngameni flashes that broad smile again as she shares that it is in

South Africa that she has grown most as a woman and a mother.

It was in Joburg in 2003 that her heart led her to set up the

thriving medical services business that she now runs from the leafy suburb of


She exclaims: “It’s the ubuntu in me that did it. I had a friend in

Cameroon that had difficulty conceiving. She had heard about advanced fertility

treatment in South Africa and asked me if I could help. She came to South

Africa, stayed with me and I assisted her in getting around. A year later, she

went back to Cameroon with her baby.”

Following what was a humble Samaritan act for Ngameni, was soon

flooded with requests, mostly from total strangers.

She heeded the call and set up a business to service the many

people in need of healing.

Ngameni says: “It was difficult to charge people for what I felt

was simply a charitable service.

However, people gladly paid because they needed

the service.’’

Since registering the business as Medicare International Medical

Assistance in 2006, Ngameni has acquired property for accommodation, chauffeur

and hospitality staff, and an extensive network of the best South African health

care professionals to support the business.

“For me, the best thing about this business is that you see people

who arrive sick and sometimes almost dying. When I take them back to the airport

healthy and well, it is the best reward for me,” she says.

Ngameni has become a surrogate mother for many of the younger women

in the Cameroonian community living in Joburg.

Her first-hand experiences of making a home away from home have

made her a good choice for counsel.

However, she believes that it is her love for community life and

for South Africa, its people, the land and its freedom that allows her to share

her gifts from her heart.

Concluding our meeting the handshake evolves into a heartfelt hug

then she waves goodbye.

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