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Jack Burgess - Medicine & Healthcare in Tanzania

Why I volunteered

Volunteer’s host family in Tanzania

When I first decided to take a gap year, I knew that I wanted to do more than simply make my way across the map. Doing something to really help people in another country was a big priority for me, and as I want to go on to study medicine at university, I took the opportunity Projects Abroad offered me to go and volunteer at a hospital in Tanzania.

Volunteering in the hospital in Tanzania

I volunteered at Mwananyamala Hospital in Dar Es Salaam alongside my two roommates, and the other volunteers on the medical project. It was great having so many other people to work alongside, doctors, nurses and other pre-medical students like me.

Volunteer at a Dirty Day in Tanzania

Work at the hospital can be tough, but it’s ultimately incredibly rewarding. I was lucky enough to be able to work in several of the hospital’s departments, and there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. On my first day, a Tanzanian doctor took it on himself to teach me some basic examination skills, such as checking blood pressure and listening to the chest, and with some practice, I was able to help him assess his patients. It was really rewarding to be able to help the doctors to care for their patients, and to be part of the team on that ward.

I was also incredibly lucky in having the opportunity to work alongside a doctor from Norway in the hospital’s emergency room. She really helped me to get involved with the treatment of the patients and to learn about what it was we were doing, so I had a great learning experience too.

It can be difficult sometimes. There were times when we simply couldn’t do any more for people. It’s very hard not to feel like you aren’t doing anything to help at these times, but this is what drove me to do my best while I was there. All the people in the hospital feel the same, and it’s amazing how the Tanzanian doctors and nurses are able to achieve what they do in the circumstances, and being able to work with them to do this is a real privilege.

Volunteering at a hospital in Tanzania

Living in Tanzania

Of course, I didn’t spend 840 hours in a hospital. I lived with a host family in a part of the city called Medizini, alongside my two housemates, who were both volunteers at Mwananyamala too. One of the best things about staying with a host family is they give you an insight and experience of their culture that you couldn’t get on your own. This was definitely true for us – we were invited to a pre-wedding ‘send off’ party for one of their relatives. It was a unique experience, unlike anything I could’ve experienced in Britain, not least for the variety of foods on offer, like fresh roast goat and fried bananas.

When we left the hospital in the day, the first stop would be at ‘our’ cafe for lunch, before heading off on the dala-dala or catching a ride in a bajaji. Sometimes we would stop for the shops to pick up something we wanted at home, or sometimes we would go down to the markets to haggle for souvenirs, and sometimes we would go straight home to get some rest before the evening, when we might meet up for dinner or a drink and plan some of our bigger adventures.

Hospital emergency room in Tanzania

For me, these took the shape of a weekend’s trip to Zanzibar and another weekend on safari in Mkumi national park. It’s great to be able to do all of this with your fellow volunteers, and I’ve made friends from all over the world by volunteering with Projects Abroad.

The volunteer experience

Not all the volunteering was at the hospital – we also worked with a local orphanage, on one of our ‘dirty days’ we planted a mass of fruits and vegetables for them, and on our medical outreach, we performed basic health checks on the children, testing them for malaria and HIV as well as checking their general health, and giving them a banana afterwards for being brave.

I had a fantastic time in Tanzania. I met great people and made great friends, and I really feel that by volunteering I managed to help people in Tanzania. It’s no exaggeration to say it was a life-changing experience.

Jack Burgess

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