Zainab Akhter - Medicine in Kenya
I decided to undertake a Medicine project in Kenya. I wanted to have the opportunity to live with a host family, rather than in a hotel, so that I could learn more about their culture and traditions. The main reason I chose to do this project was because I have always enjoyed working closely with people. I felt that it would be a great experience to not only help health professionals, who were limited in numbers, but to also help locals through education and treatment, who may not otherwise have received this.
Arriving in Kenya
On 20 March, I arrived at London Heathrow at 6am ready to depart to Kenya for the first time. I was quite nervous, as I have never travelled alone on a plane before. I arrived in Kenya at 9pm and had to wait in a queue for two hours before I collected my baggage and left through arrivals. As I walked through arrivals I was astonished to see so many unfamiliar faces. Luckily, I saw a man holding a board that said “Projects Abroad” who had come to collect me from the company. I had double-checked the man’s photograph on my phone to make sure that this was the right person I was supposed to be going with. We left to reside in a hotel for the night before we drove down to Nanyuki the next morning. The journey from Nairobi took four hours.
During the week I was busy with my placements at Liki Dispensary and my medical outreaches. As a medical student I found these experiences invaluable. I was involved in pregnancy examinations, foetus development checks and family planning advice. I helped check children for malnutrition, growth development and medicine dispensary. The clinic consisted of five nurses and no other health professionals. The clinic was very busy and so the staff appreciated my contribution.
On one of the medical outreaches, I was placed at a girl’s boarding school called Daraja. I was told to teach girls aged fourteen to seventeen about reproductive health. I understood that the girls would be shy to ask questions about this topic so I asked them to write their questions on a piece of paper anonymously. As I began answering questions, more and more girls became confident enough to ask me other questions related to this topic. At the end I asked whether they had any more questions and I was surprised when they gave me speeches of appreciation and wrote me thank you notes.
Another outreach took place in a village, where we were working in an old shed. We set up three stations, one where we created an area where we could weigh the patients, measure their height and arm circumference; another where we could consult the patient to diagnose them and finally a pharmacy with donated drugs from local hospitals. I had the opportunity to put in use what I had learnt from university about the different antibiotics, various illnesses including neurological disorders. I was able to help the nurses with diagnosis and treatment options. Our clinic was a success and we remained in the village for longer than expected. Villagers were very grateful for receiving our support and free medication.
Another outreach was at an orphanage called ‘Hope and Home’. Here we organised a sports tournament with the street children. We played various sports with them, which they really appreciated.
On the weekends, I had the opportunity to travel with the other volunteers. We organised safaris, trips to other cities such as Nakuru and Nairobi. We used the public transport for travel (tuktuks and matatus) and hired a safari car for some of the activities. We also attended cultural shows, which helped us gain a better insight into Kenyan culture and traditions.
In conclusion, my self-confidence both as a person and in my studies has greatly increased. My awareness about culture and issues has improved by being able to live in the Kenyan way and visit the different cities. My favourite part of the experience was the teaching, as I have never done this before. The appreciation they had reflected was very touching.