Molly Start - Medicine & Healthcare in Tanzania
A while ago representatives from Projects Abroad came to talk to us about the possibility of doing a gap year with them by volunteering overseas on one of their projects. However, on hearing about these incredible projects and countries I decided that I could not wait until the end of school and so I enquired more and decided that a 2 Week Special in the summer after AS levels was the perfect trip for me.
Then the hard decisions came of where in the world I wanted to go and which project I wanted to be a part of. Before this trip I had never been out of Europe and so the choice of countries seemed so amazing. For a number of years I have wanted to visit Africa and so I decided that Tanzania was the place that I would go.
After booking my trip, the excitement began to grow but the closer I got to the departure date the more the nerves kicked in. My main worry was the fact that I didn’t know anyone else going on my project however I was completely reassured and put at ease when I walked into the departure lounge at Heathrow airport and met my fellow volunteers, who were all so lovely and friendly. These people, who I then spent the next two weeks volunteering and living with, became such great friends of mine and I’m sure we will still be in touch many years from now.
First Impressions of Tanzania
After landing at the Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania, all of the volunteers on my project boarded a bus that drove us the hour-long journey to Arusha where our host family lived. Little did we know how eventful, fascinating and sometimes terrifying this journey would be.
I think it is fair to say that the roads in Tanzania are somewhat under-developed and so the holes and ditches make any journey a bumpy ride. We were all shocked by the speed at which people drove on these dangerous roads but we did enjoy some of the beautiful views of the country, especially of Mount Kilimanjaro.
We also experienced the many street sellers in Tanzania, and at the beginning of our visit our limited Swahili made these very confusing and difficult encounters for both us and the sellers, however after a couple of language lessons we soon got into our stride when talking to the locals and were able to successfully or sometimes not so successfully negotiate good, fair prices for the items that we wanted to buy.
My Host Family
Something that made my trip so enjoyable was the host family that I stayed with. They were so lovely and they would always go out of their way to make sure that you had everything that you needed and I loved every moment that I spent with them.
The family that I stayed with, along with many of my fellow volunteers, really made my Tanzania experience something to remember as they cooked local food for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and they talked to us lots about the culture and traditions of their country. I feel like despite only being in Africa for two weeks, I really got to know the country well.
The couple who we stayed with had a little boy called Brian who was only six months old and so we had great fun teaching him to blow raspberries, which I reckon his parents loved!
The mosquito nets caused great hilarity during out stay. First of all they took a long time to put up and many proceeded to fall down in the middle of the night and then there was getting inside them without letting any bugs come in with you which sort of involved diving head first through a rather small hole at one end of your bed.
We spent a lot of our leisure time at the house of our host family where we chatted with each other, played lots of card games, watched films on laptops and played sport in the little courtyard behind the house. I also learnt lots of new skills as the host family taught me how to cook some of the traditional food that we had been eating and I also perfected my ability to hand wash clothes as frequent washes were needed due to the dusty conditions in Africa.
My Medical Placement
I was really looking forward to visiting the hospitals in Tanzania and shadowing the doctors as I was really keen to see how healthcare differs in Tanzania compared to at home. The experiences that I gained and the things that I saw will stay with me forever, and whilst there were some great times where I was able to help a patient and make a real difference to their life, there were many times when I saw some really sick people who were dying. These times were really tough and upsetting but I really valued them and I think it has helped me to prepare a little more for a career in medicine.
The best part of my medical work experience was being a part of some of the medical outreach programmes. One day we went into an orphanage and taught the kids about the importance of hand washing and food hygiene, whilst playing with them loads too!
I was also lucky enough to accompany a doctor to a rural village outside Arusha where we set up a little mobile clinic and I was responsible for doing the pre-consultation checks like height, weight and blood pressure on all of the patients who came through the door. I met some amazing people, many of them who had such tough lives but what really struck me was how happy the Tanzanian people were despite often having nothing.
Leisure Time and leaving Tanzania
During the middle weekend of my trip I went on a safari which was absolutely amazing. I thought that we would maybe see a few animals in the distance but we saw the full range of African species very close up, sometimes a bit too close for comfort! It was really nice to have some time to see the country as well as volunteering and combining these made it such a great trip.
Saying goodbye to my host family was so hard as we had become really good friends and leaving the country was difficult as I loved every moment that I had spent there, however both of these mean that I will definitely go back to Tanzania in the future.
My whole experience of Projects Abroad has been positive and I would really recommend going with them on a project as you have the safety of them if something goes wrong but they also help you to make the most of your time away. They show you the best places to visit and give you some amazing experiences that you will remember forever.