Nancy Connolly - High School Specials, Medicine in Tanzania
Going to Africa had always been a dream but thanks to Projects Abroad it became a reality. As an aspiring medical student I was looking for a way to travel and experience medicine in a developing country before applying to university, so the 2 Week High School Special program seemed perfect. I worked hard in my local pub for a good few months before I departed in order to gain enough funding for my trip but it never quite seemed a reality until about a week before when I began to pack and received the email address of the girl I was traveling with.
Traveling there was an experience in itself as I had to take three separate flights across the world but I felt like it gave me a great deal of independence and I was fortunate to be traveling with another volunteer.
My Host Family
As soon as we arrived we were met at the airport by a Projects Abroad member of staff and taken to our host families. It was good that everyone doing the medical program was staying in the same house which was kind of like a hotel. It was great because as well as being immersed into the Tanzanian culture I got to meet other volunteers from all over the world and the group bonded really well.
The family was extremely welcoming as Tanzanians typically are and we were told to call our hosts ‘Mama’ and ‘Baba’ which is mom and dad. We made friends with their daughters straight away – a cheeky 8 year old who adored taking photos on my camera and a 21 year old aspiring fashion designer who designed and made some of us beautiful African outfits. We all felt very comfortable in the house which had flushing toilets and hot showers! However we still experienced using holes in the ground during the outings.
Nobody seemed to have trouble getting used to the Tanzanian food which included stews, beans with rice or ugali. Occasionally we had fried chicken and chips which everyone seemed to enjoy and the oranges which were green! Some of us requested to help milk the cow and cook omelets and chapattis in the kitchen outside with the ‘mama’ (mom) and ‘dada’s’ (sisters) which was great fun.
The Medical Placement
On the first day we had an induction where we were shown around the city, taken to the Projects Abroad office, given some forms to fill in and were able to exchange money and generally settle in.
Every day we were picked up by a bus from the house and taken to one of either of the two hospitals where we were based – Ngarenero and St Elizabeth. The days usually consisted of lectures and workshops on different subjects, for example HIV and TB, family planning, dentistry, surgery, tropical diseases, which were then followed by visits to clinics.
The highlight of the placement for me was the medical outreach day when we traveled out to the outskirts of Arusha with a doctor. We set up a clinic and local Maassai tribes came for basic health care. Being split into three groups, we rotated throughout the day between reception (taking the patients name, age, temperature, pulse, blood pressure and symptoms), watching the doctor’s consultations and making up the prescriptions. I enjoyed feeling useful and that I was making some sort of difference to the people there.
Another day consisted of a visit to a snake park and anti-venom clinic where we observed patients suffering from black mamba bites and got to hold numerous snakes and reptiles. We also got to ride camels! Another great day was when we did wilderness first aid and survival skills.
Although the program was extremely busy with medicine related activities we also had time for a Swahili workshop, meals out, drumming and dancing and numerous shopping trips where we had to bargain for items in hectic Maasai markets. A lady also came to the house to braid our hair African style. The activity plan was amazing and let all the volunteers experience not only healthcare in Tanzania but their culture and way of life. On the final day there was a trip to the orphanage where some other volunteers were based. Playing with the children was extremely humbling as they were so positive and excited even though they had little family or material possessions. Through Projects Abroad and an NGO the orphanage was given water filters which were indispensable to the people there. It was a lovely way to end an amazing two weeks.
At the weekend we had a break from being in the hospitals and were taken on safari! The wildlife and scenery in Tarangire national park were absolutely stunning and it was crazy that we were only a few meters from elephants, giraffe, lions, ostrich, monkeys, zebra and buffalo. That evening we stayed in a lodge and enjoyed African acrobatics and dancing which ended with everyone up and involved. On the Sunday we got to go hunting with real African Bushmen who caught, skinned and ate an impala right in front of our eyes! Luckily we all had strong stomachs being pre-medical students and some of us tried the meat which they cooked on a fire straight away. It was amazing that they spoke a rare ‘clicking’ language, identifiable to only a few tribes.
Having to go home was very hard for me as we had all become very close to the family and each other over the 2 weeks. We had become accustomed to Tanzanian culture, the busy markets and dala dala’s everywhere. The people there were extremely open and friendly and made me feel right at home miles away from where I live. I miss the host family a lot and we even received small parting gifts from them when we left and were welcomed back to the country again.
It was unforgettable to be able to witness medical care given in a completely different environment and embrace the culture and people of the country. It is a once in a lifetime trip and I learnt so much in the two weeks. I strongly recommend the project and I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity.