Sandra Larssen - Medicine & Healthcare in Tanzania
I am a 23-year-old medical student from Norway. In August 2014 I went to Tanzania for three months to volunteer on the Medicine project with Projects Abroad. My first two months I stayed in Arusha working at West Meru District hospital and my last month I spent working at Endulen hospital in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).
When I first planned my trip, I thought I would be the only volunteer at Endulen, which I had absolutely no trouble with. After staying in Arusha for a while, I was informed by Projects Abroad that there would be two other girls there as well. It was very nice to have a few other volunteers there the same time as me, but I would have managed just fine by myself as well. And this is something one has to be aware of and prepared for, because the hospital is located in the middle of the bush and there’s not much to do there besides work.
Living in Tanzania
At Endulen you stay at the hospital hostel, as opposed to staying with a local host family which is common for many other projects. The hostel is located right next to the hospital and has 6-8 separate rooms. Some rooms have one bed, some have two. This means that you might get a room for yourself, but it’s also possible that you have to share a room with someone, depending on how many people they have staying at the hostel. Volunteers stay here and also other people coming through - whether it is people coming to visit the hospital, or tourists exploring the NCA.
The rooms have a bed with mosquito net, a table and a separate room with a bathroom. The bathroom had a typical western style toilet and not the squatting ones you often find elsewhere in Tanzania. You also have a sink and a shower, but there is no warm water. If you ask for warm water, it’s possible to get warm water in a bucket. I found my room spacious, and even the bed was surprisingly comfy. They provide you with a towel, but I would definitely bring one anyway (it’s nice to have two).
The walls and the floor are all made out of concrete, so bringing slippers/flip flops might be a good idea. They’re nice to walk around in inside your room, and also to use when showering. It should also be mentioned that it’s quite loud between the rooms, and it can get quite cold at night time, so make sure to bring some warm clothes with you.
My Medicine placement
To me, the hospital had a surprisingly good standard. Much better than what I expected before arriving, actually. But of course, keep in mind that when I say good standard, I’m comparing it to the typical African standard and not the Norwegian standard I’m used to (which has one of the world’s best healthcare systems).
The hospital has five one-story buildings laying close to each other, all connected by a concrete pathway with a rooftop over. One administration building, one maternity ward building and the other ones are for outpatients department, minor and major theatre, X-ray room, pharmacy, laboratory and the in-patient department with many different rooms, each room typically meant for a specific patient group - paediatric cases, general female cases, general male cases, tuberculosis rooms etc. But because it’s quite small hospital, they don’t divide them into departments/wards - just out-patient department and in-patient department. When I was there, there was around 40-50 in-patients at all times in the hospital.
I worked Monday to Friday, a minimum of 6 hours per day; but I even worked Saturdays and Sundays too. And if I needed to take a weekend off, I was of course free to do so if I wanted to. But like mentioned above, there is not much to do there besides working and helping out at the hospital and read books.
The morning meeting starts at 8 am. Almost the entire hospital staff gathers here in the morning for prayer, and after that the health care workers stay put for the report. Most of it is in English, but sometimes they tend to talk Swahili.
Medical outreach took place once a week, maybe even several times per week depending on the schedule at the time. Here there is a little team of people that go out with a hospital car and drive around (typically from boma to boma - a boma is basically a Maasai family’s house).
Generally there are not that many activities after 3-4 pm. You can of course choose to finish for the day and do other stuff, which I absolutely did some days. But mostly I was around at the hospital on and off the entire day.
I found it is very important to be pro-active and independent, so that you have things to do. You have to talk with people, see what needs to be done and act accordingly. Often we were the ones that had to initiate, for example in making a rotation schedule, but once we suggested it, they were very into the idea and supported it. So you might be the one often taking the initiative, but you are generally met with smiles and helpful faces all the way.
But let me just make one thing clear: this was one of the best experiences in my life, and if you think that this sounds like something you would like doing, go for it.