This summer I travelled to Arusha in Tanzania to volunteer in a local hospital. It was an eye-opening experience for me, being the first developing country I had visited and there was some culture shock as I witnessed how impoverished the general living standards were in Tanzania. As a first-year medical student from Europe, this volunteering opportunity exposed me to the challenges faced by the local healthcare system where access to medical supplies, services and facilities is very challenging due to economic limitations. It gave me immense perspective and gratitude for the quality health care system I, and many others, take for granted. The experience has left me with a profound sense of social responsibility to make a positive contribution in the future to medical projects in developing countries.
There were a couple of concerns that I had prior to catching the flight to Kilimanjaro airport. They were mainly to do with fear of the unknown and many anecdotal stories I had heard about personal safety and threats to my health. I talked to the Travel Clinic at the Regional Infectious Diseases Unit at the Western General and they gave me lots of excellent advice about travel vaccinations and the precautions I needed to take specifically for Tanzania. Another concern was about staying alert to safe consumption of food and water while there. When you shower you have to be vigilant to not accidentally swallow any water as you could contract waterborne diseases. This included having to brush your teeth using only bottled water. These kinds of concerns were completely alien to me and once again made me appreciate sanitation levels at home I had previously taken for granted. Safe drinking water has always just been something you can rely on.
Despite these concerns, when actually there going about daily life, you quickly adapt and take necessary precautions without impacting on full immersion in local life. I witnessed cases in the hospital that were very intense and showed me the power of modern medicine as well as exposing me to the harsh realities of being a doctor in this setting. I learnt so much from this experience, met some great people, learnt some Swahili to use at the hospital when assisting on rounds. This allowed me a much more person interaction with patients. I even participated in a traditional Maasai dance. I learnt a lot about modern African music and admired how uninhibited the Tanzanians are when dancing and fully enjoying their music. The combination of volunteering in the hospital and making the most of opportunities in my free time including hiking around Mount Meru, visiting a coffee plantation, going on a safari to Tarangire National Park have all provided me with a rich patchwork of memories of an unforgettable three weeks. I have learnt a lot about myself and have a much better understanding of some of the daily challenges faced in the Developing World. Thank you to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for helping to make this trip possible.