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In November 2017, four of our incredible nurses, Kellie Taylor, Nicole Carney, Rachel Barker and Melissa Gray, travelled all the way to Tanzania to help bring their much needed skills to one of the countries neonatal and paediatric units. They were motivated by a desire to not only experience another culture and perspective on life but to help out in east Africa, which is much less fortunate than the UK in terms of skills and resources. To raise money to buy equipment for the unit, they held a fundraising night and several cake sales.
When they arrived, they got straight to work on the neonatal and paediatric wards, taking care of sick babies and children. Kellie Taylor said “It was a massive shock to see the culture difference in how they treated patients and the vast amount of babies that needed to be cared for by so few staff compared to here.”
They worked at Mount Meru, a big referral hospital. This has more resources than the rural hospitals but the staff still did not have the education to use the resources correctly. Melissa said “ We were amazed how a lot of the babies actually got better as the most common illnesses were serious conditions including HIV/AIDS, typhoid fever, meningitis, TB and malnutrition.” In Tanzania, families have to pay for healthcare so it hit them particularly hard when families could not afford to pay for their child’s treatment.
They stayed in a house shared with 26 other volunteer nurses, provided by Tanzania Volunteer Experience (TVE) where they could socialise and even had two “mommas” who cooked and cleaned for them! In their spare time they went to the markets to collect souvenirs, socialised with other volunteers, watched a film (if the electricity was working) and even went on a three night safari! That’s one for the bucket list!
All four nurses loved their time there and would love to experience it again. Melissa Gray, A&E nurse said “Going to Africa has been the best experience of my life so far!” Kellie Taylor, neonatal nurse agreed “I would love to do it again.”
Melissa continued “You can’t change the world or their culture and way of life, but you can do lots of little things to help. Some of these children and families have nothing but they are the happiest children I have ever met.” Melissa highlighted embracing the small victories of life, and helping out in whatever way we can.
These inspiring women gave up their own free time and money to help those less fortunate and we couldn’t be more proud. They threw caution to the wind and had the best experience!
We would get up early and leave for approximately 7:15am. Stray animals roamed the streets with us, we had to get two Dala Dala’s to the hospital, these are small mini bus like vehicles which could fit about 12 people on but they squashed about 30 people. There were many locals on these as they were the cheapest way to travel about but were very squashed (it was an experience). The locals would pass their children to you even though they didn't know you.
We started our shift at the hospital at 8am; I was on the paediatric ward with Rachel. At 8am we would begin to clean, we would get buckets filled with cold water and put in it what looked like washing up powder. We cleaned the beds, walls and mopped the floor by getting a cup and splashing the floor with it (me and Rachel were not very good at this), we would also change the bed sheets, as we were doing this all the patients and parents would have to wait outside (minus the children on oxygen in 'ICU').
Once the cleaning had finished we would start the ward round which was led by an American doctor, teaching the other medical students. Me and Rachel would do everyone's observations and write in the ward round book, the name, age, diagnosis and plan. This was difficult at times as some of the plans were very different to what we are used too at home. Common illness was malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, typhoid fever, meningitis, and TB. Families have to pay for healthcare (children under 5 got free x-rays but not further investigation such as a CT scan). So many investigations were not done as the families could not afford to pay for it.
At first we found it very difficult due to the language barrier but once we got used to the routine we gained confidence and started to use our own initiative. We finished placement about 2pm which was enough as it was mentally and emotionally draining most days. We walked to catch the dala dalas back to where we were staying. We got off the dala dala at sakinia oil com, all the locals knew the volunteers lived here so they would come running over , sometimes touching you, all wanting you to get on their bus. At first we found this daunting but we soon got used to it. Once we got back it was our free time, sometimes we went to the maasai market, or visited orphanages ,did our washing (by hand in a bucket) and after dinner we would update our journals and discuss our day. Sometimes we would attempt to watch a film, but 98% of the time we would have daily power cuts as the government turn it off to save money, so we would light a candle and one night we played hide and seek which was hilarious but we had nothing better to do in the dark! Then we would have an early night ready for the next day at placement.
We volunteered with the company Tanzania volunteer experience (TVE). We could do a home stay with a local family or a volunteer house which we chose as we wanted to socialise with other volunteers. There were two houses our company owned, Twiga and Simba house, we stayed in Twiga which could fit about 30 volunteers in.
We had a day guard and a night guard that kept us safe. We had two 'mommas' that would cook and clean for us, they made us three meals a day, it was very nice food! A typical meal was rice, veg and some sort of meat in a sauce. The Mommas would do your washing for a small fee, we did attempt to do our own in a bucket but we weren't the best at this, the mommas did a brilliant job and you'd think they had been washed in a washing machine.
The house was very nice and clean. The only downside was we never had hot water so we were showering in freezing cold showers - it made you realise how lucky we are! Most nights we would have power cuts as the government would turn it off to save money, it could be out for one hour but the most it was out for was 12 hours, we would light candles and get our torches out.
We would watch films (when we had electricity which wasn't a lot). We would visit the Maasi market buying gifts that were hand made. We would talk to each other about our days and personal experiences. Play games such as 'categories' something we would never play at home, but it was really good fun - and our team always won! Weekends were free so we would go on weekend trips and we did a three night safari which was amazing, we camped out in the Serengeti (not many people can say that)! Thursday was social night so all the volunteers would meet at either Samba or Twiga house and we would discuss our placements in groups. We had a big feast and we could drink alcohol and go to the club if you wanted to - it was actually really cool! You would get local children and locals running up to you calling you 'Mzungu' which means traveller and is not meant to be offensive.
We worked at Mount Meru which was a big referral hospital so it had a lot of resources compared to other rural hospitals but they did not have the education to use the resources correctly. They had a nebuliser but only about three face masks they would re-use. Once we had two patients on one bed. They would only write a report on the sickest child. It was amazing how some of these children did get better. It was hard to communicate with the families but sometimes a smile was all we needed and they understood we were trying to help. It was very frustrating at times, for example a baby had stopped breathing, we got him back but they needed to get IV access as the one in his head had blown. They were trying more scalp ones and not getting them , I told them I could see a vein in his foot and I am trained to do cannulas and I’m happy to do it but they wouldn't let me as they said they don't do feet whereas this is common practice at home.
To take the small victories, you can’t change the world or their culture and way of life, but you can do lots of little things to help
"Pooley pooley" which means “slowly slowly” in Swahili, Tanzania people have a very relaxed attitude towards life and it’s something I think we forget to do here. if you were meeting someone you would have to say five o clock 'mzungu' time otherwise they would arrive three hours late but that is just their culture.
We are very lucky! Some of these children/families have nothing but they are the happiest children I have ever met. The community spirit is amazing too; they are so friendly and always help each other out.
Going to Africa has been the best experience of my life so far, I wish we could have gone for longer, it will stay in my heart forever and I want to go back again maybe next year. Overall it was such a challenging but rewarding experience.
Alder Hey Children's Charity