Joshua Martin - Medicine & Healthcare in Tanzania
I stumbled upon the Projects Abroad website by luck when I randomly browsed the internet one afternoon looking for ways to get more medical experience before applying to study medicine at university. Within an hour I’d found exactly what I was looking for, a chance to observe and volunteer at an international hospital for a month’s time.
I chose Tanzania as my final destination rather quickly having caught the “Africa bug” 2 years previously when I spent 2 months in Kenya - I couldn’t wait to return. If you’ve experienced Africa before then you know what I mean and if you haven’t been yet you need to go. We live in an age where basically the entire world is a less than 24 hours flight away and yet despite having so much left to see I still feel drawn back to Africa every time I get two pennies to rub together. It has a unique beauty and feel to it and I’d only do it disservice if I tried to describe it, but suffice to say Tanzania is a great example of everything that is great about Africa.
Projects Abroad helped organize everything for me; getting me flights, providing a list of vital equipment for the trip, emailing me frequently to help me sort out the VISA and work permits I needed and generally helping solve any and all minor problems that popped up with a sense of experience and patience that I really appreciated. Before I knew it I was on my way there.
Arriving in Tanzania
The strongest feeling I remember from the first week and a half after landing at Dar es Salaam wasn’t awe, nervousness or even excitement; it was disorientation. I remember feeling lost as Godwin (a member of the Dar es Salaam Project’s Abroad team) drove me to my new home in Mbezi beach. I also remember feeling confused for about 7 days after Vicki (my adoptive mother on the Projects Abroad staff) slowly walked me through and then wrote down how to get to work using the daladalas.
I remember being overwhelmed with being introduced to the other 15+ volunteers, from countries all over the world and I remember having a bizarre conversation with the money collector on the daladala when I was trying to ask if I was on the right daladala to get to Mwananyamala hospital (where I volunteered) and he was looking at me like I was in the wrong country - it later turned out I was on the right one but I was pronouncing Mwananyamala so poorly he didn’t understand what I was saying.
Eventually the disorientation was replaced with a sense of ease and familiarity and I was able to take multiple routes easily around the city, but I recommend to anyone who goes to take a notebook for writing down directions, at least for the first few days.
My Medical Placement and host family
I spent the vast majority of my time in two places, Mwananyamala hospital and the beautiful home of my host family, Mr. & Mrs. Tenga. The hospital was divided up into different wards specializing in different areas of medicine. Although I was given a tour of the entire hospital I spent the most of my time on the surgical ward because I am interested in a possible career in surgery.
I’d go in every morning and scrub up, some mornings I’d help clean the ward and then I’d observe any surgeries performed that day. I had an amazing, up-close view and the surgeon had no qualms about explaining exactly what had occurred after the surgery. I even occasionally helped move patients off the surgery table and fetching gauze and other medical equipment if it was needed. These were all small tasks but they made me feel involved and I appreciated the staff giving me the chance to help out.
Initially because of my poor grasp of the language and unfamiliarity with the accent it was tricky socializing with the nurses between surgeries but before long I had my own nickname and had been roped into buying a few of them lunch every now and again. I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to them when it came time for me to leave.
When not working I spent most of the time with my host family. They had a beautiful house with chefs and guards and the family was so friendly and inviting that I immediately felt comfortable there. The two ladies who worked for the family cooked my two roommates and I loads of delicious local food and I came to crave freshly baked chapatti and chocolate spread every morning before going to the hospital. The family all spoke good English and I enjoyed spending time with them. They really made me feel part of the family, discussing their politics and culture, inviting me to their church and throwing a small party and dinner for me and the other volunteers at their home. They showed a keen interest in how I was experiencing Tanzania and were just lovely and friendly people. I can’t sing their praises high enough and would love to stay with them again when I next go back to Tanzania.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was to make so many friends in the month I was there, despite everyone coming from different countries and backgrounds and a myriad of different interests I can honestly say all the other volunteers were great fun. We would spend a lot of time as a group, not just the volunteers at the hospital but also other Projects Abroad volunteers volunteering at local orphanages and schools.
We’d meet to go to the beach and play volleyball, learn Swahili and how to cook traditional Tanzania meals. We’d practice how to stitch a wound using sponges and we’d go to African dance lessons and restaurants together. We even organized weekend trips to Zanzibar or safaris and mountain climbing in other parts of Tanzania. Some of it was organized by Projects Abroad and some of it was arranged by us.
If I did have one complaint about my time in Tanzania it would be that I spent way too much money having fun, despite everything being so cheap out there I did find it tricky to curb my spending socializing. I mean it’s one of those good problems I guess, that I had so much fun doing things out there I couldn’t stop myself from doing them even knowing it was going to cost me later on. Just be warned; from my experience you’ll probably go over the budget you’ve set yourself for the trip.
I can say in all honestly I was 100% happy with my experience with Projects Abroad in Tanzania. I loved the host family I stayed with and the staff at the hospital. I got a ton of chances to observe medical procedures and experienced what working in a foreign hospital feels like. I had lots of fun days and nights out with the other volunteers and spent a month basking in a beautiful country and culture.
I came back with a slight tan, a heap of good memories and stories, and plenty of highly useful medical experiences. Although the whole trip wasn’t cheap I can’t recommend Projects Abroad enough and fully intend to take part in something similar with them as soon as I can afford to.