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Rebecca Toffolo - Medicine in Tanzania

Volunteering in Tanzania

After deciding to take a gap year after graduation, I did five months of backpacking around Europe. Once back home in Canada, my dad mentioned Projects Abroad to me as I wanted to do something else with the rest of my year. I spent a few days looking through the Projects Abroad website, at all the different programmes and places that you could volunteer. I knew I wanted to do a medical internship somewhere in Africa, so I chose Tanzania. I spoke to my friend about it and he decided to join me. We contacted Projects Abroad and they replied with a lot of helpful information regarding the trip. We knew exactly what we would need before and while we were traveling, as well as how to raise funds to cover all our costs.

Surgery Ward

Two months later we were on a plane heading for Dar Es Salaam. I was beyond excited and a little bit nervous. When I landed in Dar, I felt a bit anxious, as I did not know what to expect. Outside the airport, Godwin (one of the staff in Dar) came up to me and greeted us with a big smile. He took us to our home for the next four weeks and let us rest until the next morning when he came to give us our orientation. He took us to the hospital that we would be working in and showed us which daladala’s (buses) to take then introduced us to the head doctor and took us out for lunch. He then left us with our host family, until the next time we met at a volunteer social. At the time, the idea of taking the daladala’s on our own seemed very overwhelming, but we knew we would be able to do so.

Our Medicine Placement

We started out in the surgery ward, on our first day at the hospital, with one of the interning doctors and another Projects Abroad volunteer. We did rounds between the male and female surgery wards, observing what the doctor would do, asking questions regarding the conditions of the patients and assisted the doctor in minor tasks like cleaning wounds. During that week we had our first volunteer social, a Swahili lesson, which was very helpful. Our next social was a medical outreach. We went to one of the schools and did check-ups on the children’s dental hygiene and checked for any fungal infections. Once the check-ups were done we spent some time with the children.

The following week we moved into the labour ward. I was a little nervous as I did not know what to expect, but within an hour of being in the ward a lady had already given birth and it was the most amazing thing that I have ever seen. Assisting in the ward I saw over 12 births and can now confidently say that I could help deliver a baby in an emergency. For our social that week we played beach volleyball on one of the beaches – it was my favourite social by far! Some of the locals joined us. Afterwards some volunteers stayed for Karaoke. We also went for a group dinner one night to an Ethiopian restaurant (Ethiopian food in Tanzania) which was delicious and a lot of fun.

Volunteers in Tanzania

Our third week was spent in the minor theatre, or outpatient treatment. Here we worked with patients who needed small stitching, stitches to be removed, who had burn wounds or other flesh wounds that needed cleaning and bandaging etc. On our second day there I was able to stitch up a patient’s ear that was sliced in half horizontally. Minor theatre was my favourite ward in the hospital because the doctor really let the other two volunteers and I take complete control of the patients, while he would observe and make sure we did everything correctly.

In my fourth week, I unfortunately got quite sick. I’m still not too sure what caused the sickness, but after a day of lying in bed, I called Vicki (one of the staff in Dar) and she took me to the clinic where I had tests run and was prescribed antibiotics. The staff support was amazing. I felt that each member of the staff truly cared about all of the volunteers. Not only that, but they also liked to plan events for us and ensure that everyone was having as good of a time in Tanzania as possible!

Medical Outreach

After my four week placement, my friend and I headed up to Arusha to go on a four day safari to the Serengeti. We found a guide to go with through the staff and other volunteers. It was an incredible experience; I would recommend it to anyone who goes to Tanzania – go on a safari! After that we went to Zanzibar, as many of the staff and volunteers recommended going there. It was equally as impressive as the safari. Tanzania has it all – an interesting culture, kind people, an abundance of wildlife and beautiful scenery everywhere you go.

My volunteer trip was everything I had hoped for and more as I came home a different person. I look at life differently now, I am more confident and I am now more sure of what I want to do with my life. I made lifelong friendships with some of the volunteers that I spent my time with and I know that I will be back to Tanzania soon.

Read more about Medicine in Tanzania

Rebecca Toffolo

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