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Beate Zonneveldt - Medicine in Tanzania

Host family's children

For years it was my dream to go to Africa for volunteering. I always thought it would stay a dream forever, because I am already 33, I am married, have my fulltime job as a psychologist, my own house I have to pay for and thought I should have done it while I was studying.

But in November 2009 I thought: ‘why shouldn’t I do it?’ and 5 weeks later I was in Tanzania, Africa. After I decided to go volunteering in Africa I found the site from Projects Abroad, I really wanted to do a medical project (I have always been interested in medicine and psychology) but because I am a psychologist I was afraid it might not be possible. But after a couple of mails, I got an email that I was welcome on a medical project in Tanzania.

Before I went to Tanzania, just for a month, I thought about what I really wanted to do and made a list. I really wanted to do 4 things: to see (and if possible assist in) operations, work in maternity and see some deliveries, go on safari on the first of January, which I thought would be a wonderful start to the New Year and to meet a fellow psychologist so we could exchange experiences. Because I am specialized in treating traumatized patients in Holland I was really curious to hear how traumatized patients are treated psychologically in Tanzania.

In surgery

After I arrived in Tanzania I met my host family and I really felt at home at their place. It is so different to stay with a local family and be part of their lives instead of being in a country and staying in hotels. I loved walking through Arusha city, there were always lots of Masai people in the city (it felt like walking in my history book) and I loved working in ‘my’ hospital (St. Elisabeth) where I was the only Mzungu (Tanzanian term for foreigner). I found out that it was possible to see and do anything I wanted. I just had to ask.

In my first week I saw a couple of operations and I even had the chance to scrub in and assist the surgeon in the removal of an appendix. It was so exciting. After a couple of days I asked if it would be possible so see a delivery if there would be one and I was so happy that I was told I could. In my month in Tanzania I saw a lot of operations and a lot of deliveries (c-sections and normal deliveries) and I was able to assist a couple of times and not just observe.

On safari

I found out that everything was possible, but I always had to ask and make sure that it was ok with the other members of staff. I went on an ambulance drive to pick up a patient, helped to make gauze for sterilization when it was quiet in the hospital, came back in the evening if there was an interesting procedure planned and went on rounds with different doctors.

And of course I went on a safari for 3 days (from 1st till 3rd January) and was lucky to see the big five and a lot of other animals with some of the other Projects Abroad volunteers.

In my hospital unfortunately there were no psychologists, but Claire from the Projects Abroad team knew I really wanted to meet some colleagues and we had talked about the possibility to go to a hospital with a mental health department for one or two days. I was happy to receive a message one day from FIilbert, another member of the Projects Abroad team in Tanzania, to say that he had arranged a meeting with a psychologist in Mount Meru Hospital. I went there with Claire and Father Filbert and another volunteer. It was really nice to talk with Sister Sheila, one of the very experienced psychotherapists in Mount Meru.

With newborn baby

After I told her I am specialized in EMDR, a special therapy for traumatized patients she told me she had heard and read about this treatment and she really wanted me to give her and two of her colleagues a training in EMDR. After some hesitating, ‘can I do it in such a short time?’ I decided to give the training which was a really wonderful experience. I had learned a lot in Tanzania from a lot of people and this was my chance to give back something to this country, something which is really needed. I trained 3 psychotherapists and realized that I had done everything (and more) which was on my list in just 4 weeks.

I really enjoyed the experience and found out that a lot of things are possible if you just ask for it. I have decided after my time in Tanzania to follow a course so I can go to post-conflict areas in the world as a psychologist and help there with community building. My month in Tanzania really helped me in this career changing decision. I am so very happy I decided to follow my dream.

Beate Zonneveldt

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