You learn something new everyday, well… You should at least try to learn something new…

My trip to Africa really is a learning experience. I am learning a new language. I am learning a new culture. My stomach is learning new food (and how to not make me feel sick from it!). I am learning about other people. But I think the most important lesson I am learning here is about myself.

So things I know about myself before Africa:

1. I like to help others (classic pre med answer)
2. I love to talk to people and learn about their lives.
3. I am a good listener.
4. What those individuals in the medical field do for their patients inspires me.
5. I am good at science.
6. I do not want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life.
7. I love to learn.

Okay so I definitely know more than 7 things about myself and so do you. But trust me these ones are going to relate to this self reflective post you are about to dive into… So buckle up. Twenda (let’s go)…

So surprise surprise, I didn’t come to Africa to go to Viavia on Thursday nights and visit a snake park (those parts are just an added bonus). I came to Tanzania to volunteer in Arusha through a program called Projects Abroad. Projects Abroad is a program that takes volunteers from all over the world to different places, other than Tanzania. Right now, my buddy Connor Dugan is over in Nepal doing the same program. Here in Arusha people are here for all different projects. Some are doing care projects where they work in a day care or orphanage. Someone is here doing a civil rights project teaching women how to raise chickens to make an income (Johnny that’s you!). I am here (with Jenn) working on a medical project.

Before coming to Africa, I have spent a lot of time shadowing in different areas of the medical field. (If you’re dying to know where and what I’ve seen hit me up and I’ll send ya my resume for some fun reading).

Here in Arusha, I am working at St. Elizabeth’s hospital. Everyday Jenn and I walk to work (it takes about an hour) and then see where the day takes us. Saint Elizabeth’s is one of the nicer hospitals in Arusha, as the patients have to pay for most things, and less is sponsored by the government. The hospital is pretty large for the area that we are in, with a few different wards and about 100 beds. Since Jenn and I have been here we have gotten to see many different aspects of the hospital. So let me take you on a tour…

Upstairs is the medical and pediatric ward, which is where Jenn and I have spent most of our time. There are about 7 rooms each with anywhere from 4 to 12 beds smushed in each. Every morning we would do rounds with the doctors, taking notes for them as they saw each patient. Most patients have TB, malaria, or HIV. Most of the children have pneumonia or AWD (acute water diarrhea). The doctor would spend about five minutes with each patient in the morning talking to them before prescribing a plan of action to treat their ailments. The pediatric room is my favorite because I love making faces at the children, trying to make them smile. Usually the moms all laugh at me but I don’t care I’m having fun. šŸ™‚ the best part about the pediatric ward is when we dismiss patients, although sometimes they really aren’t in any better condition. Some are, but most are just not responding to any treatment, so being in the hospital won’t help them. Believe me you wouldn’t want to spend any extra time in this place. It smells, is dirty, and crammed to capacity. Hygiene seems to be an unfamiliar term here.

Downstairs is the surgical ward. Patients there are being treated for wounds, burns, and broken limbs. There is a theatre, or surgical room, where actual surgery is done, but because of some annoying “red tape”, we have not been allowed to see anything in there (I’m not bitter). What we have seen is peoples wounds get cleaned. Note to self: don’t get hurt in Africa. It is rare that I see a doctor or nurse wash their hands let alone put on gloves in this place. They have them… Just tend to not use them.

It’s hard to explain the arrangement of the hospital but to get to most areas you have to walk outside. I know that’s hard to picture but just go with it…

So outside and around the corner from the surgical ward is RCH… I still don’t know what that stands for… But there is where we test for HIV, malaria, and Syphilis. What’s awesome is that for pregnant women, all of that is free! What’s not so awesome, is not everyone knows that. But in RCH, I have personally tested people for those diseases and given Tetanus shots. I’m questioning the legality on that one so I’m gonna pull the my-dads-a-lawyer card.

Back inside the main building is where I have spent most of my time recently: the maternity ward. Our first few days were full of folding gauze all day. So. Much. Fun. But then our favorite nurses invited is to do a night shift with them! The night shift was amazing! Within the first three hours, Jenn and I had seen 3 births. After the 12 hours, which went by surprisingly quick, we had seen 5 deliveries total. It was incredible.

There is something so amazing and beautiful about seeing a baby take it’s first few breaths; Something so fulfilling when you see the change on a mothers face from agonizing pain to pure joy when they hold their child. I wanted to cry when I saw the first delivery… Okay okay I did cry. You would have too.

During the night a baby was born prematurely. She had to be taken to another hospital because we don’t have a neonatal care unit. But when I stood next to her for the first twenty minutes of her life I thought how pure and innocent she was… All I could see was potential. She was so lucky to still be alive. I’m praying every night that she’s okay because the care here for her is no where near what it should be. I don’t think I’m ever going to look at an American hospital the same…

Working on the medical project, I haven’t spent all of my time in the hospital. One of the best parts about my program is the different outreaches that we do for the community.

The best outreach that we have done was the last one. All of the medical volunteers went to Asher Vision Orphanage. (At least I think that’s what it’s called) Anyway, we set up mobile clinic at the orphanage for the about 25 children. All of us volunteers were spread out and had different jobs so the children could go from station to station. They had their weights and temperatures taken and then went to see one of the two doctors with us. They would do a check up with them and right down any medication that they needed. Then the kids came to us… Well the station I was at. The medicine area (yo Tay j I’m a pharmacist like you now!) There I handed out medication for tapeworms, vitamins, and put cream on children’s heads to eradicate the lice on their heads. It was an incredible experience. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so helpful… And I loved it. The children were so happy and grateful for us. If I ever come back here, I will just do mobile clinics the entire time as nothing is more rewarding…

So you see I haven’t spent all of my time here galavanting around Arusha site seeing… I may not be here curing aids, but sometimes I think it’s the little things. It’s a smile, an encouraging hand, a congratulations on the baby, and some medication for those who can’t afford it. It’s all I can give but maybe it’s just enough..

So now is the part where I tie it all together. Learning. That’s why I’m here, and even though I have only passed the halfway point of my trip, I have learned a lot.

Things I’ve learned so far from Africa:

1. I know nothing about the differences in health care around the world.
2. It is free to have a child here. The government funds all pre and post natal appointments and procedures.
3. A lot of deliveries occur before the mother gets to the hospital. It is one of the major problems of childbirth here.
4. I do not want to be a midwife. Seeing a placenta made me light headed.
5. No medication for pain is given to mothers here for deliveries. It’s completely natural as we would say in the states. (Let that one settle in for a bit).
6. Whatever the problem is… Education is the answer. One of the biggest issues with healthcare here is the lack of education.
7. I love babies. Okay so I knew this one before hand but when I was standing with newborn, I was in heaven. I may have been happier than the mothers.
8. Being nice goes along way. Okay I’ve known this one forever especially because Ginny always says “Kill them with kindness”, but working with the staff here has been frustrating some days… But when I kill the nurses with kindness, they let me see and do more.
9. I talk to much…. With a huge language barrier, Jenn and I just have to sit and listen sometimes… And it’s made me realize how much people have to say. Sometimes it’s more rewarding to listen to others then talk about yourselves. Everyone has a different story to tell and you don’t want to miss out.
9. We all can make a difference in this world. Okay that’s cliche but it’s really true. You don’t even have to do much… Donate you’re clothes… I’ve seen countless American sports team shirts here. Donations do make it… And people need them. Everyone has the potential to change the world in a positive matter. Like the newborn children in the world we all have endless amounts of potential to make the world a better place. Sorry that’s even more cliche. But it’s true! Donate clothes! Donate money! Don’t have the money? Donate you’re time. In fact even if you do have money, you’re time with others priceless. (And for everything else there’s MasterCard). Help a friend. Help a stranger. Pay if forward. I apologize I am feeling very inspired and want to share it with you all.
10. I WILL make a difference in this world. I can decide if the conditions of my hospital and the people in it are pissing me off or inspiring me. Either way I want to change it. Somehow. I’ll start with making patients smile for now and move on to bigger things later.
11. I don’t know how to make that difference. In my head it’s always been simple. “You like medicine and to help people: be a doctor. Check. Career found now go… ” well now I don’t know anymore… I like people. I still like medicine… But if you were paying attention, medication isn’t the answer, education is… Hmmm educating about healthcare… that could be something…

Or maybe I’ll just blog my thoughts for the rest of my life … Anyone out there want to pay me? šŸ™‚




3 thoughts on “Learning”

  1. I love reading about your adventures! I almost want to have another baby so you can take care of it….almost, but not quite! šŸ™‚ Don’t ever feel the need to apologize for being inspired….talk about it and inspire more! I’m so glad you are having this experience! Can’t wait to hear more stories when you get home!!

  2. Christiana – YOU are absolutely amazing!!! I love how you are sharing your experiences – you are a wonderful storyteller! You are making such a difference in the world and touching so many lives in just a few short weeks!

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