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Pamela Marquez - Medicine in Tanzania

With staff and volunteers during the Medicine project in Tanzania

Upon entering my junior year in college, it had occurred to me that I needed to be the absolute best candidate for my grad school applications. What would make me stand out? What was going to change my life forever and make me feel like I was doing something useful? Africa, I knew that’s where I needed to go, it was my calling. As soon as I narrowed down my search, I picked Tanzania. I spent countless hours on my computer researching which country in Africa was low on medical resources, in need of help, and was going to give me the adventure of a lifetime. I begged my friends to come with me, but they just wouldn’t budge. So I decided to go alone! Yeah, what was I thinking right? What is this 21-year-old American girl doing in a foreign country all alone? Well, I’ll tell you exactly what I did.

Once I booked my flight and completed all my necessary documents, I was set on my accommodation. What better way to experience an authentic Tanzanian lifestyle than to live with a host family? A couple weeks before my departure, I was given the name of my host family, Mama Stella, and working accommodation, Saint Elizabeth Hospital.

Arriving in Tanzania

Exploring Tanzania

After my 21-hour flight was done with, I was greeted by one of the Projects Abroad coordinators, Michael. Driving all the way to Arusha, I got a little tour on how to make my way around. Once we arrived to Mama Stella’s house, she greeted me with a big hug and a kiss, I felt right at home. Mama Stella always asked me if I was alright. She always asked me when I wanted breakfast and dinner, and made sure to pack my lunch for work. The food was delightful and so freshly made. As the days went by mama taught me some Swahili and made sure I knew how to get to work, also how to protect myself when walking around on my own. Since I didn’t have a roommate for the first couple of days, I was usually on my own, which I had no problem with as it challenged me in so many good ways. I always made sure to come back to Mama Stella’s house before the sun went down, because it wasn’t safe for anyone to be walking alone at night. The day after I arrived, Angel, my other coordinator, gave me a tour of Arusha and showed me how to get to work. She made sure I knew how to take a dala dala, that I had a phone to contact the Projects Abroad team and friends, and had exchanged my currency.

My Medicine Placement

Medicine volunteers working at the hospital

My first day at Saint Elizabeth Hospital was life changing. I put on my scrubs and was ready to start my day. I was told I’d be in the pediatrics ward, following around Dr. Quaker. During the three weeks I spent shadowing Dr. Quaker, I learned more than I would have by reading a textbook. Normally some volunteers would rotate around the hospital, but I loved helping in the pediatrics ward. As I got more accommodated at the hospital, I helped Dr. Quaker fill out charts, took patient’s temperatures, weights, heart rates, and learned about different types of drugs. For the first two hours of the day, I would follow the doctor into the pediatrics ward to check on inpatients, and continued onto the clinic for the rest of the day. I spent a total of eight hours in the hospital Monday through Friday. Besides working in the hospital, I went with other medical volunteers to outreaches, where we would serve over 90 people with free medication. Knowing everyone got what they needed and was checked by the doctor for free, was outstanding.

If I ever felt I needed to contact the Projects Abroad staff, I knew they were always a phone call or text away. They were always helpful when I had any questions, especially when I got lost and needed help getting somewhere. Angel made sure that my first day at the hospital ran smoothly. She met me at Saint Elizabeth and introduced me to the doctors and nurses, and made sure that all my paper work was submitted. I’ll always remember the relationships I made with the Projects Abroad members; those are friendships that last a lifetime.

Free Time

Reaching the top of Mount Meru

Besides expanding my education I also wanted to experience Tanzania on my free time. I decided to climb Mount Meru, which took three nights and four days to climb. I asked for two days off in advance and I was off to Arusha National Park. This was an experience I will never forget; it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my entire life. I had altitude sickness, sunburns and painful blisters, but it was worth making it to the summit. On the way up I saw so many animals and the beautiful scenery replays over and over in my mind. A tip for any solo travellers, don’t be afraid to go alone, I made so many friends and met so many other solo travellers along the way. The experience of going alone really sets you up to the challenge and gives you the experience of a life time. Being able to tell people you conquered something all on your own is priceless!

Final Thoughts

For my last couple of days I said my goodbyes to everyone, especially Dr. Quaker. She was the most outstanding doctor I’ve ever met and I love everything she does for the people of Arusha. Dr. Quaker wished me the best and hoped that I would one day return. Because of people like her, and the Projects Abroad staff, I will try my best to come back in a couple years but with my nursing license. Volunteering in Tanzania was the best decision I ever made and I hope to see Africa again soon.

Pamela Marquez

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