Volunteer Review: Amy M., Midwifery in Togo
It has been nearly ten years since I first perused the Projects Abroad website looking for meaningful travel. My interest in “voluntourism” began just as I was finishing high school in Canada, and wanted to see the world while still making a contribution to the communities I visited. I selected a trip and paid the deposit, but as time went on and the trip became more real, I started to second guess myself and eventually ended up cancelling. I was worried that I wasn’t ready, or I wouldn’t assimilate well.
Several years later, Projects Abroad was back on my mind as my sister was now preparing to graduate. I thought a trip for the two of us to South East Asian would make a great gift, and what a way for her and me to both add to our resumes with a volunteer trip abroad. But again, I was too nervous, and worries about safety and comfort swam through my mind. Again, I waited.
In 2017, my current job was coming to an end and I was fresh with the disappointment of finding out that I hadn’t been accepted to midwifery school in the fall. It felt like my life had reached a stand-still. For the third time, I found my mind wandering to Projects Abroad. I was determined to continue on my journey in maternity and obstetrics in the hopes of bettering my chances for the following year, as well as to continue to improve my French language skills. Projects Abroad had only one country that offered a maternity placement in French – Togo.
I had never heard of Togo or even seen it on a map. I didn’t know anyone who had either. A quick search on Google told me a few basics, but it was clear that if this was my choice, I would be putting myself into the element of the unknown. Without giving myself the time to change my mind, I hit the “Apply” button.
The ball immediately got rolling, with a wonderful Volunteer Advisor contacting me almost instantly to begin the process. She was incredibly flexible with my complicated schedule and busy lifestyle, and still found time to touch base and answer all my questions. Things were starting to feel real, and miraculously this time I wasn’t scared. I was excited! I started to fundraise and was blown away by the support I was receiving. Family and friends, and even strangers were sending me donations and words of encouragement, promising to follow my journey and looking forward to hearing my stories.
One month before my arrival, I received the information about my host family and work placement. This was actually happening and I couldn’t wait! With Christmas passed and the New Year finally come and gone, it was time for me to board my plane. I left Toronto on the 14th January 2018 and my near decade-long dream of volunteering abroad was finally a reality.
Arriving in Togo
The moment I disembarked from that plane into the gorgeous Togolese sunshine, I knew this was exactly where I was meant to be. Delphine, the Projects Abroad staff member who was coming to accompany me to my host family, was waiting for my arrival as I left the airport. She introduced me to my incredible host parents and showed me around my neighborhood. The following day I visited my placement hospital and met with my colleagues, as well as the other staff and volunteers at Projects Abroad. Everyone welcomed me with such open arms and I felt incredibly safe and cared for.
My Midwifery placement
The six weeks that followed were an absolute blur. I had no idea that time would fly by so quickly! I was learning so much at my work placement, and I couldn’t believe how willing the midwives were to teach me. There were days that were hard, there’s no doubt about that, but the Togolese people were so hospitable and it made adapting to my new adventure much easier.
It probably goes without saying that in an impoverished country with a significantly different healthcare system, I saw things that were hard to process. There were times when resources simply did not allow for women to receive the care they needed, and there were practices being followed that Canadians would consider extremely outdated. I watched babies being separated from their mothers after birth due to lack of space, and on one shift a mother passed away while the midwives tried to resuscitate her.
These are things I certainly wasn’t used to seeing in Canada, and I felt heartbroken to think that they were likely avoidable if only the proper resources were available. But this was an important part of my Togolese experience: I was watching women make do with what they had, and the strength and resilience of the Togolese people struck me deeply.
My host family
Every evening, I would return to my host family who were eager to share their culture with me. I was served some incredible local dishes as well as some very creative Western infusions, and I was always made to feel welcome.
Half way through my stay, I experienced a special treat when my host sister celebrated her marriage, and I got to enjoy the unique party that was a perfect display of Togolese spirit and love. I was full to the brim with Pils (a local beer) and foufou (a local dish), and with the sunshine beating down on me, I was starting to feel truly Togolese!
Free time with other volunteers
The other volunteers with Projects Abroad became an important support system for me. Our weekend outings and excursions were a fun time to learn about what other people were experiencing in their different work placements, and it felt nice to swap stories and share laughs.
During my time in Togo, Projects Abroad organized several outreach activities within the community, like painting a local school for street kids or visiting a nearby village to provide free health services for the children. But it wasn’t all work and no play. We also spent a good amount of time enjoying the beaches and bars, and even enjoyed a weekend trip away to the mountains. It felt like time was moving too quickly, and before I knew it, my last week was approaching.
With almost too many African souvenirs to fit into my luggage (including a kilo of shea butter, a liter of coconut oil and some of the most aromatic coffee I have ever smelt), I sorrowfully packed my bags and prepared for my departure. I couldn’t believe that the six weeks were already over, but I was feeling excited to go back home and share my experiences with others. I had a funny feeling that this wasn’t the last I would be seeing of Togo or Africa.
My overall experience
Overall, it was seamless from start to finish. I was so supported and cared for the entire time, and I couldn’t believe I had ever been worried to take the plunge!
I thought I would be going to Togo to contribute to their community, but the truth is that they contributed so much more to me than I think I did to them. The Togolese people taught me what it means to take care of the people you love and to push forward and get the job done even when it feels impossible. Their love of family and their (almost impossibly white) smiles are the souvenirs I hope I keep forever. Although the five kilos I gained from eating yams and plantains is a souvenir I wouldn’t mind losing!
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.