Volunteer Review: Jennifer M., Medicine in Tanzania
As a student at the University of Pittsburgh, I am studying to receive duel degrees in Africana Studies and Neuroscience. I have always aspired to travel to Africa to fully emerge myself in what I was learning in my classes. I had the opportunity to travel to Africa once before and the day I left, I knew I wanted to return again someday. I came across Projects Abroad and instantly knew that Projects Abroad would make the opportunity to travel back to Africa possible for me.
When I realized I wanted to go back to Africa, I considered many different locations. After looking into the numerous locations that were available to me to travel to, I decided I wanted to return back to Tanzania; as an Africana Studies major, I am studying the Swahili language and wanted to visit a country that would allow to me expand on what I was learning in the classroom. Projects Abroad helped make this possible for me, guiding me through the documentation and vaccination process at every step of the way. After all of this cleared, my adventure to Arusha, Tanzania began.
After over thirty hours of traveling, including a few connecting flights, I finally arrived at the airport in Tanzania. Once I passed through immigration, I was welcomed to Tanzania with open arms by Projects Abroad staff, who welcomed me with smiles and a placard. They were curious about my travels to get to Africa and they explained to all of the visitors traveling with Projects Abroad about what we should expect on our trip, and we instantly felt comfortable in such a foreign place.
Accommodation and Placement
While in Africa, I stayed with a host family. When I arrived, I was warmly greeted by my host mom Manka, my host sister Vanessa, and dada our cook. Manka made sure our room was perfect and gave us a tour of the house. She did her best to make sure we felt as home as possible in a place much different as our own homes. Within a few minutes of spending time with her, I instantly felt comfortable with our home and my new family. Our home was lovely. There was an amazing living room and dining area, as well as a bathroom with a shower and our own bedroom.
We arrived on a Friday night, so we had the weekend to get acclimated to our new home before we started our volunteering efforts on Monday. Our host mom showed us around the town and introduced us to her friends, making us feel like we were her own children.
On Monday morning, Georgina, our Projects Abroad supervisor, toured us around town to show us our placement, where we would be able to find different things, and how to use the daladala. She was absolutely wonderful in helping us get around and answering any of our questions! She even wrote down exactly how to use the daladalas to get from one location to another so we never got lost.
This was extremely helpful, because we always knew which dala we needed to take and exactly what to say so it was a lot less imitating. The orientation was extremely helpful and relieved all of my anxiety about this new experience.
I volunteered at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Arusha. It is a small hospital with many amazing doctors and nurses. Each morning, I would check in with our supervisor and tell him which ward I wanted to help in each day. He was absolutely amazing in making sure we got the most out of the experience, based on what we were interested in. He also made sure we got to see as much as possible.
The hospital was divided into different wards, such as surgical, maternity, male, women, and pediatrics. I spent most of my time in the pediatric ward and the maternity ward. My daily tasks included shadowing the doctors and nurses on their rounds, helping prepare medications, and observing the birthing process. A common thing volunteers did here was overnight shifts since a majority of the births occurred in late hours of the night. I did a couple overnight shifts, which often took place between 6PM and 6AM, where I was able to help with many births.
Even though I studied Swahili in school, I still struggled a bit with the language barrier; with that being said, all of the staff at the hospital spoke great English, so there were never any communication issues between the volunteers and the doctors. All of the doctors would explain exactly what there were prescribing and the plan of action for each patient in English after talking with the patient in Swahili.
Free time and outreach
Each day after volunteering, I would either spend the day in town looking through different shops and talking with locals, or I would go home and spend time with my host sister once she got home from school. Our host sister was wonderful in making me feel at home. We would play cards, watch her favorite TV shows, or I would let her braid my hair, which seemed to be her favorite pastime. She would tell us about her day and teach us new Swahili words everyday.
Our cook was wonderful in making us local Tanzanian favorites every night for dinner. Breakfast and lunch were also provided for us each day. Our host mom made sure that we enjoyed every meal and adjusted the menu to suite our needs. I was worried that I would not like the food since I am a picky eater, but Tanzanian food is delicious!
One of my favorite things about Projects Abroad is the outreaches. Every Thursday we were able to do an activity and meet other volunteers while helping the local community. I highly recommend attending as many Project-Abroad events as possible because it is the best way to meet other volunteers from around the world.
One of the outreaches included going to a different hospital than the one I volunteered in to talk to women about women’s health. Another outreach was going to an orphanage to examine and treat the children that resided there. The medical outreaches made my time in Tanzania extremely valuable. Not only was I able to help different local communities, I was also able to meet volunteers from all over the world.
During my time in Tanzania, I was fortunate to spend my free-time traveling during the weekends. Projects Abroad made it very easy to plan trips as well as organize them with other volunteers, which was very helpful. There is a ton of weekend activities to do in Arusha. I went to the snake park, a day hike to the Mt. Meru Waterfall, a tour of a Maasai village, a safari, and a trip to Zanzibar.
Projects Abroad was extremely helpful in giving me contact information of reliable tour companies so I could get the best deal possible from the safest tour guides. During these trips, I was able to make memories with other volunteers and get a deeper appreciation for the country as a whole.
I did not plan to meet so many amazing people and make friendships that would last forever. Projects Abroad does an excellent job making sure that each volunteer feels comfortable and meets the other volunteers that are going through the program as well. For only being in Tanzania for six weeks, I made some amazing friendships.
My only complaint is that I did not spend enough time in this beautiful country. My placement and accommodation went above and beyond my expectations. The Projects Abroad staff was fabulous in answering all of my questions and making sure I had the best experience possible. I will definitely try my hardest to utilize Projects Abroad again.
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.