2 Week Specials, Medicine in Tanzania by Ryan Potter
I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to Arusha, Tanzania as part of a Projects Abroad 2 Week Special in July 2013. I am 18 years of age and currently applying to study medicine at university. This fantastic trip appealed to me, because I wanted to be able to travel to a place completely different from my own surroundings in Belfast and I wanted a volunteer project that allowed me to develop my interests in medicine. The 2 Week Special format was perfect, because it provided a very active and well-structured trip with the opportunity to meet volunteers of a similar age from all over the world!
Arriving in Tanzania
To begin, my friends Daniel, Julia, Sarah and I spent a tiring and long 20 hours in Istanbul Airport. We were very excited but had very little idea of what to expect when we arrived in Tanzania! After a long day of travelling we were met at the airport by our Projects Abroad co-coordinator Clementina, who we immediately got on very well with. On arrival, we found out that we were sharing accommodation with 18 other Medicine volunteers between the ages of 16-18!
Initially we were apprehensive about this, however very quickly we made friends among the group and there was a great atmosphere in the house. Our host family Sarah, Daniel, Monica and Baby Brian made our transition very easy and they introduced us to many delicious Tanzanian dishes, most of which went down a treat!
My Medicine Project
We spent most of our time in Mount Meru Hospital, which was a short drive from our house in Sakina. Our time there was extremely worthwhile. We took part in various workshops on topics such as TB, Malaria, Tropical Diseases, HIV/AIDS and a surgical workshop (where we even sutured chickens!). These workshops gave us an interesting insight into how hospitals in less developed countries work and how these diseases so seriously affect the population.
After the workshop we went on ward rounds with the doctors and we were able to see the patients, while the doctor explained their causes, symptoms and treatments. Although eye opening and very interesting, it was very hard at times as we often saw patients who were on death’s door.
We were lucky enough to be able to spend time in a Maasai School, teaching the kids the importance of washing your food, hands and boiling water before you drink it. These simple life lessons weren't easy to pass onto these children who obviously spoke very little English. However with the help of posters that we made, we were able to have a great morning with the children. What struck me was how happy and grateful these children were when we were there, even though many of them lived very impoverished lives. I have never seen so many smiling faces and I speak for the entire group when I say that we definitely had an unforgettable experience at the school!
The medical outreaches were a key part of our time in Tanzania. We spent two days in different areas of the country, distributing medicine (with the help of nurses!) sitting in on consultations and meeting the local people and speaking to them with our newly found, but very basic, knowledge of the language!
Although the trip was very much directed towards medicine, we took part in many other enjoyable activities such as a drumming, dancing, cooking classes, culture and language workshops. We also visited Maasai markets using our best bargaining skills!
A trip to Africa wouldn't be right without a safari and so we were lucky enough to spend a day in the beautiful Tarangire National Park! We were picked up from our house by open top jeeps and made our way through the park passing by endless animals and incredible landscapes; we even saw a lion attacking its prey! As if that wasn't enough, the following day we hiked around the panoramic Mount Meru Waterfalls! We also had the opportunity of visiting a Maasai Village to see their way of life and understand their very different values.
To our surprise we were welcomed by the Maasai men who had killed a goat for us and as a tradition some of us even drank the goat’s blood with the Maasai warriors! Not something I would want to do twice but definitely glad I did it!
There aren't enough words to describe how amazing my time in Tanzania was. As soon as I left I wanted to go straight back. Even though I was missing the comforts of home, it was such an incredible opportunity and I enjoyed every minute of it! The Tanzanian people were extremely welcoming and made us feel at home!
I want to thank everyone at Projects Abroad who was involved in making my trip as good as it could have been and also all the other Medicine volunteers! Although we only knew each other for two weeks, we became a family, had endless laughs and I made friends that I hope to keep in contact with for a long time. I would recommend Tanzania as a destination for the 2 Week Special placements without hesitation!