Volunteer Review: Eric L., Midwifery in Tanzania
My name is Eric L. Jr. and I am from Ithaca, New York. Around the time of my volunteering trip with Projects Abroad, I was a junior attending Union College in Schenectady, New York, where I double majored in Neuroscience and Women’s and Gender Studies on the pre-med track.
Throughout my life, I have had a lot of clinical opportunities which narrowed my future plans greatly. I am an aspiring obstetrician-gynecologist. Eventually, I wish to own my own practice. My career aspirations are what led me to choose the Midwifery Project.
When looking for a potential country to travel to, one of my key evaluating points was that I wanted to travel to a culture that viewed birth as much more natural. I came across the Midwifery Project in Arusha, Tanzania. After stumbling upon the project in Tanzania and finding out that there were zebras in the country (I have a fascination with zebras) I selected Tanzania as my location.
From all of my research on the opportunities that Tanzania possessed, I took the leap and from the dozens of countries to choose from with Projects Abroad, I chose Tanzania and could not be any happier with my decision!
My Medical Placement
For my Midwifery Project, I was placed at a maternity hospital that deals with a range of services including labor and delivery, cervical cancer, sexually transmitted disease testing and infant care. Overall, the staff was absolutely amazing; they were so helpful to both me and the patients.
The hospital is located in the heart of the city that sees thousands of patients a day. For the majority of my project, I was placed in the baby clinic where infants from the ages of six weeks to five years old came to be evaluated on growth milestones, and to receive medication and vaccinations.
It was absolutely insane the number of babies that I weighed every day! Due to this, I was really able to develop my skills of managing large groups as well as getting countless hours of Swahili practice. I was also able to work night shifts where I was able to observe.
The birthing process is so expedited in Tanzania, compared to the United States; women deliver their babies and go home soon after birth compared to spending a couple days in the hospital in the U.S. I really loved having the ability to compare and contrast such drastically different ways to deliver, as well as having the opportunity to interact with such a vast number of pregnant mothers.
One thing I was nervous about when I arrived in Tanzania was that Projects Abroad was going to place numerous volunteers at my project so I would be unable to interact closely with the medical professionals. However, to my surprise, there were only two other volunteers at my project and so I was able to receive a ton of one-on-one time with the nurses, midwifes, and the doctor. My experience at the hospital has really helped me further my career goals and once again confirmed my passion for women’s health.
Community Medical Outreach
Projects Abroad did a phenomenal job of connecting all of the medical volunteers, even though many of us were working in different hospitals spread throughout Arusha. At least once per week, the Projects Abroad staff and all of the volunteers would have a day solely committed to medical outreach in the community.
On one of the days we traveled to two separate orphanages and aided in patient intake, evaluation, and the distribution of medication. Even though these sorts of actions were not what I traveled to Tanzania to experience, they unexpectedly taught me so much. I learned a lot about how a practitioner operates and works to diagnose patients in an efficient, yet accurate way. Furthermore, I was able to learn about what medications are used to treat certain illnesses and how to appropriately determine diagnosis.
Overall, the community medical outreach days improved my experience greatly and were a key part of what made my Projects Abroad experience in Tanzania so successful.
My Host Family
My accommodation and host family were absolutely phenomenal. From the first night I arrived (which was in the middle of the night), I felt completely welcomed and at home in my host family’s house. There was food waiting on the table for me and I didn’t lose any weight traveling to Tanzania.
Overall, the food was pretty good, but as a picky-eater I was worried that I was going to struggle to find edible food. However, on a daily basis, I was amazed at how my host family was able to create such amazing meals with basic foods such as rice, chicken, soup, etc. When there was food that I did not like, all I had to do was ask for something different and my host family made it for me.
My host family was an elderly couple who constantly had grandchildren and friends over and so the home was always lively; we had countless laughs and fun times with the young grandchildren. I was able to constantly practice my Swahili with them as well teach them some English.
Overall, I cannot say how much I loved my host family and accommodation. On a nightly basis, I learned more and more about Tanzanian culture, how to work with young children, and how to interact with individuals whom I struggled to communicate with. The accommodation was another key factor in making my experience in Tanzania so memorable.
My Overall Experience
Bottom line, I chose to go to a culture vastly different from mine because although I have taken years of languages, I have always struggled to appropriately interact and communicate with people in those languages. Therefore, as a future medical practitioner in the United States, a vastly diverse country, I knew that it was critical for me to develop the skills to overcome the inability to effectively communicate. Without communication, healthcare is impossible.
Therefore, I hoped that by traveling to Tanzania I could develop these skills while also getting to experience a culture that practices natural birthing practices. I could not have imagined learning so much in such a short period of time (I was in Tanzania for three weeks). I had grown so comfortable, so quickly in a culture so different than mine and had learned so much all thanks to the experiences and opportunities that Projects Abroad arranged for me while I was in country. Every single day I created memories that are going to last forever.
Projects Abroad found the perfect host family with the best accommodation and hired the most amazing staff that ensured that my experience was educating, yet impactful. And finally, Projects Abroad helped me contact with others in the community that helped me plan a safari and trips throughout the rest of Tanzanian all of which created amazing memories as well.
It was so hard to leave Tanzania, but I am traveling back to the United States so much more adept at communicating with individuals whom I cannot necessarily speak with and overall that will make me into a much better practitioner in the future as well as a better overall global citizen. I owe Projects Abroad so much for creating such an amazing experience.
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.