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2 Week Specials, Medicine in Tanzania by Samuel Bresland

Medical volunteers

I signed up to the 2 Week Special in Tanzania because I wanted to gain some medical experience that was different to things experienced by most pre-meds at the age of 16. I also wanted to do some independent travel for the first time and see new sights, meet new people. My two weeks in Arusha did not disappoint and I was able to accomplish what I set out to do and much more!

Meeting New People

I feel like I should mention the people I met throughout my trip, as they were a large part of what made the experience so enjoyable. The people of Tanzania are the friendliest bunch I’ve ever met - so happy and full of life. Despite never having met you before they’ll smile and greet you like an old friend. The local host family gave us a very warm welcome into their home and made sure we were comfortable. They’d answer any questions we had and provided us with many a laugh.

The people of Projects Abroad working in Arusha were a real credit to their organisation. Thanks to them there was never a dull moment as the whole fortnight was packed with things to do. Our co-ordinators, Clementine and Peter, looked after us really well: whenever there was something needed they delivered without fail, and they were great fun too!

Medical outreach

Then there was the medical group itself. There were ten of us from many different parts of the world – Switzerland, Poland, the UK, America, Canada and Australia - all united by the same goal of wanting to become doctors and nurses. Within a fortnight it went from being a group of total strangers to a band of friends so close to one another that it felt like a family. I miss them all and I keep in touch with them still.

My Medical Project

When we went out to Maasai villages during medical outreaches two things surprised and impressed me:

The formidable willpower of the Maasai, for even when battling an illness that would have the rest of us lesser beings bedridden for days they still walk miles and miles to receive medical attention, often with children in tow. It really brought home how lucky I am to live in such a developed part of the world and how much I take that fact for granted most of the time.

Volunteering in Tanzania

The amount of responsibility entrusted to us. I did loads of things that I never thought I’d be able to do without any prior medical training, such as drawing up syringes for the nurses so they could vaccinate babies, and administering polio drops myself. During the four medical outreach days we got to take the temperatures and blood pressures of patients and record the results to send on to the doctor waiting for the patient in consultation.

Once the patient had seen the doctor it fell to us to decipher the doctor’s prescription and dispense the correct type and amount of medicine. It was demanding work for us, but the feeling of achievement as the last patient left the clinic with their medicine was enough to make us forget how tired we were. I also now have a healthy respect for nurses everywhere having to contend with a doctor’s handwriting!

During our days at hospital a doctor would often meet us and give us a seminar on one topic or another, ranging from the basics of surgery to the treatment of tropical diseases. In the hospitals we saw cases of unfamiliar diseases (pretty shocking ones too, in some instances) – HIV and tuberculosis and fungal infections. Witnessing these kinds of cases is an important part of the trip because you aren’t going to observe anything like them in work experience back home.

2 Week Specials

Whilst we stood around the bed of a cachectic 2-year-old and the doctor told us all about the antiretroviral therapy being used to manage her HIV, I thought to myself “This is the kind of experience I was after when I signed up – this is what I’m here to learn about”.

Other Activities in Tanzania

In addition to the fantastic medical experience we took part in many other activities. We had Swahili lessons and cooking classes; we visited the Cultural Heritage Centre in Arusha and were shown around a gallery filled with breath-taking Maasai art. On the Saturday I got the once-in-a-lifetime pleasure of spending my birthday on a safari trip. We saw more elephants than I could have ever imagined we would and I was in my element.

On the Monday we visited a preschool, our mission being to give each child some toothpaste, soap and a toothbrush of his/her own. In addition we had to teach them how to use these implements. This proved to be a real test of communication as many of the children, cute though they were, could not understand even Swahili – let alone English! However, we managed in the end, and afterwards we got to go outside and play on the swings with them all. When it was time to move on it felt sad to leave.

Safari trip

On the last day we got the opportunity to go a Maasai market and barter with the locals for gifts to bring home to family and friends. I feel that taking part in these negotiations developed my self-confidence and I’ve got some great Maasai memorabilia to show for it.

The fortnight was even better than I’d hoped it would be and I would strongly recommend the 2 Week Special Medical programme to anyone who is hoping to apply for a medical course at university. The memories of the things I did and the people I met will act as a fuel for my own ambition and determination, and the experiences will prove invaluable when the time comes for me to apply to universities myself.

Samuel Bresland

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