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2 Week Specials, Medicine in Tanzania by Lilly-Riva Groszman

A group of High School Special volunteers

My name is Lilly-Riva Groszman and I live in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Ever since I was young, I have always wanted to become a doctor. In the city I live in, most hospitals require volunteers to be 17 years old. As soon as I turned 16, I decided I wanted to do something medically related and contribute to less fortunate communities. Not only did this experience re-affirm my interest in medicine and teach me valuable lessons that I would never learn taking a course, but the programme changed my perspective on life and culture as well.

Medicine High School Special volunteers in Tanzania

My high school, Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s School, awarded me a grant to travel on a community service trip (anywhere in the world!) to experience a different culture, learn new things and see the world. I came across Projects Abroad as I was researching different volunteer organisations online. It was the only organisation that offered a medical programme tailored to high school students. I also really liked how it offered a two-week programme, as I spent most of the summer at an international gymnastics competition and had only two weeks after the competition before starting school.

Medicine High School Special volunteers in their lab coats

Africa has always been on the top of my list of places to visit. I was not sure whether to choose the programme in Tanzania or Ghana. After carefully looking at the program schedules, I went with the Tanzania programme and definitely do not regret my choice! Since I have never flown alone before, my parents were a bit reluctant to allow me to do so to Africa. After watching the webcam meeting, they were convinced that Projects Abroad was a safe organisation.

Pre-departure and travelling

Medicine High School Special volunteers

I started packing around a week before I left, because I did not want to leave everything until the last minute. We got phone calls from my Projects Abroad Volunteer Advisor, who was very helpful with any questions I had. I was so excited. The stress of travelling alone only kicked in the night before I left. I remember Googling the airport and finding stories about people who had had bad experiences travelling to Tanzania. In the end, arriving at the airport alone was not one bit scary!

Volunteer assist at a screening outreach in Tanzania

The airport was very small (I could not get lost!) and I quickly met other volunteers from other countries. We all helped each other get through security. If you are worried about safety or travelling alone, you really do not have to be. As for the flight, I travelled from Canada via the Netherlands to Tanzania. It was fairly simple, and it helped knowing that I had the Projects Abroad support staff available 24/7. I emailed one of the volunteers from England before departing and we unexpectedly met at the airport in Tanzania. I really did not have trouble making new friends. Many of the students in my project came in pairs, but those who did not made new friends quickly.

My host family

Volunteers hold goats in a local Maasai community

My accommodation was perfect! I stayed at the Haus. The host family, the food, the beds, and the rooms were way above the standards I had envisioned. We became very close with Mama’s kids. One of her daughters was my age and it was extremely fascinating to have so much in common with a teenager across the world. The culture shock was easily managed with the support of the other volunteers and our guides. Mama treated us like one of her own children. She was exceptionally kind and she was genuinely concerned about making sure we enjoyed our stay with her.

My Medicine project

Volunteers prepare for a medical outreach

The best part of my trip was definitely the project itself! It is truly incredible how much knowledge I gained over two short weeks. Every day, we had a workshop or a medical outreach. The workshops were very educational and we could apply what we learned in each workshop to our outreaches. For example, we would have a workshop on first aid and then an outreach at a school to teach teachers first aid. My favourite outreach was when we dispensed medication at an orphanage. I met so many kids of all different ages. Many of them told me they aspired to be doctors as well! I also learned how to read prescriptions and measure different medications. I really felt like I was making a positive impact.

It was life-changing to see the conditions some Tanzanians live in and how very few people have access to medical care. My favourite workshop was the surgery workshop. There, Dr Kay taught us how to suture a raw chicken, inject an orange, and then we even got to visit his surgical ward. It was eye opening to see the conditions and equipment he used to perform all his surgeries. I was shocked when I saw the scrub station – it was just a simple sink in an open room!

My overall experience

I definitely want to return to Tanzania as an adult volunteer (perhaps in Medicine) when I’m older. I’m still in touch with the other volunteers on my trip and we hope to someday meet up! The experiences and the friendships I will take with me from Projects Abroad will really last a lifetime. For anyone considering a volunteering project like mine, I would strongly recommend it. In two short weeks, I learned more than I could possibly imagine.

Lilly-Riva Groszman

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