Dedication, experience find a new home

Port Alfred seems to be a magnet for people who are competent and driven by a vision for a country that works for everyone who lives in it.

SETTLING IN: The Gaunt family, Ben (back left) and Taryn (back, second from right) with their children, Joshua, Elijah, Grace and Abenathi. Picture: SUPPLIED

Paediatrician Dr Taryn Gaunt and her family are the latest change-makers to move to the heart of the Sunshine Coast. Taryn has joined the Port Alfred practice of Dr Caroline Formica.

Taryn studied medicine at the University of Cape Town where she met her husband, Benjamin, also a doctor, who is working in the state sector. The Gaunts worked at the acclaimed rural Zithulele Hospital for 17 years. 

“We both had a passion for rural medicine,” she said. “It was our calling and our dream.” 

Zithulele Hospital is a 147-bed government-funded Hospital near Mqanduli in the former Transkei serving a population of 130,000. The Gaunts were among a group of health care professionals who dedicated themselves to improving care in the rural hospital. It became well known for the quality of its health care services and devoted staff, despite having limited resources.

Taryn describes her experience at Zithulele as nothing short of a divine calling. 

“I really felt that God called our family there. We felt like it was a place where we could make a difference. That felt really important and we had an incredible community,” she said.

“They were the most exhilarating years of my life. It was hard, it was a constant battle against just not having enough and there not always being the political will to make things better. But I grew so much, because I understood a lot more about our country,” she said.

The Gaunts would still be at Zithulele, but a new bureaucratic regime changed the hospital’s ethos and its relationship with that community. As a result, a number of dedicated doctors left the hospital in 2021 and 2022.

“We  love the Eastern Cape and we really wanted to stay in the province. We wanted to live near the sea and we definitely did not want to live in a big city,” said Taryn. 

It took a lot of persuasion from her husband to move to an urban environment, but after she’d spent some time in Port Alfred,  she was sold. 

“This is a place where diverse communities live together and get on and work together,” she said. 

Gaunt said working on the Sunshine Coast was very different from being a rural doctor in a place with limited resources.

The Gaunts have four children, the youngest 11. 

“It was important for us to be in a place where we could live as an integrated family and respect each other and our community. It’s got a nice climate and I’m blown away by how kind everybody is in Port Alfred,” she said. 

Gaunt brings extensive paediatric experience, specifically mental health, TB and HIV.

“We’re just another family who wants to see our country blossom and who believes in South Africa. We are not a family who ever wants to leave South Africa. We want to be part of building a nation that is what it’s meant to be and it feels like Port Alfred is a good place to do that,” she said. 

She’s also blown away, in general, by how well things work in Port Alfred.

“Home Affairs is amazing and even the traffic department. I found it a very welcoming town,” said Taryn. 

The paediatrician loves the outdoors, specifically camping and hiking, but she says her main focus is being a mother.