Laura Powell - Medicine in Tanzania
In September 2012 I left to Dar Es Salaam with absolutely no idea of what to expect. I had signed up to be a volunteer in Mwananyamala Hospital for 2 months as a pre-med student. Although I was going with a friend from home I still felt apprehensive about living with a strange family and with other volunteers for two months, but as soon as I met my host family and the other volunteer who would be living with us, I felt completely at ease – they were so friendly and welcoming, and really made us feel like part of the family.
On the first afternoon our room-mate took us to the beach and we had our first experience of a bajaj – which was different to say the least! Later that evening we then had dinner with our host family – the first of many meals of rice and beans.
My Medical Project
The next day we had our induction with Amen – a member of the Projects Abroad staff. He took me to the hospital on the dalaj dalaj – another completely different mode of transport!
For the first five weeks I volunteered in the hospital. I wanted to experience medicine in a different culture and most of all help in a country where they really need and appreciate your help. I was given a schedule of rotations in every department, although the doctors were more than happy for you to switch between departments if there was something in particular you wanted to see, which allowed me to see so much more than I expected.
I spent a lot of time in the Outpatients Department, where I observed and assisted with changing dressings and minor operations. I also observed major surgeries including a hernia removal and thyroidectomy in theatre, X-rays and ultrasounds in radiography and births in the labour department. I learnt so much more than I ever anticipated in the hospital, both medically and otherwise.
My Care Project
Although I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering in the hospital I felt as though the experience was benefitting me far more than the people there, so I decided to volunteer at Sinza Special Needs School as well.
I felt I was a bigger help at the school as it was far easier to build a relationship with those at the school compared to the hospital because I worked with the same people every day. My days were normally spent helping to teach the students Maths, English and Swahili, and then playing with them during break-time.
The students really enjoyed having new people to play with and talk to so another volunteer and I decided to organise an activity day with the Projects Abroad staff. All of the volunteers came to the school and participated in volleyball and football matches, and played with bubbles and Lego which various volunteers had brought with them. We also played musical statues and danced with the children.
Activities like this seem insignificant to us, but dancing and sport help those with physical disabilities greatly, and playing with bubbles and balloons which exercise the vocal chords can make such a difference to those with speech impediments. The teachers at the school were so friendly, helpful and inspirational and were really grateful to have us as volunteers.
One of the reasons I chose to go travelling was to experience a new culture, and I chose Tanzania because it looked so different to the UK. This was certainly true. Our host family were amazingly kind and went out of their way to make us feel like part of the family. They taught us about aspects of their culture such as traditions, food and family values, and were very keen to learn how different it was to England. Although their way of life is quite dissimilar to ours they made such a big effort to involve us in their life that it was impossible not to enjoy and appreciate the culture.
Every Tuesday we had a social event organised by Projects Abroad. Our first social was beach volleyball, which was a great way to get to know the other volunteers and staff. Other socials included going for dinner and cooking lessons. We also had Swahili lessons once a month, which made me much more confident and helped a lot with communicating during my projects.
Part of the reason I chose Dar Es Salaam was because it was coastal, and it also gave us the opportunity to go to Zanzibar. After about a month in Tanzania I went to Zanzibar for a long weekend with several other volunteers. Despite other volunteers advising us to go to the North of the island where you find the clear blue sea and white sands seen in all the pictures, we chose to go to the South-East coast as it was much cheaper. Our hotel had lots of trips on offer so we took the opportunity to go on a spice tour, snorkel, spend a day in Stonetown and swim with wild dolphins. I had such an amazing time in Zanzibar, and definitely want to go back in the future.
Projects Abroad also organised a ‘dirty day’ once a month, where all the volunteers would spend one day helping a local project. We built a wall for a local autistic school and then returned a few weeks later for a sports day where we had a football match with the students. It was really fun to get involved in dirty days as we could see different projects in Dar Es Salaam and interact with all of the students.
I had the most amazing two months volunteering in Dar Es Salaam, and I definitely want to return to Tanzania in the future. If I had to give any advice to future volunteers I would say to get rid of all inhibitions and completely immerse yourself into the project and the culture; don’t expect it to be easy, but the best part of going with Projects Abroad is that the staff and other volunteers are always there when you need them.