Prior to applying to and beginning training to become a physician assistant, I knew I wanted to find a unique way to garner healthcare experience hours. I had heard great things about Tanzania, had never been to Africa, and love to travel, so the experience aligned perfectly with what I desired. I was unable to study abroad during college, so I felt that this was a great way to combine travel with invaluable experience that would aid me in graduate school.
Why did you choose Projects Abroad?
Projects Abroad was the perfect program for me to work with. They were so organized in every aspect of my experience. The application process was swift and simple, and they provided me with detailed lists and schedules determining when I should apply for my visa, receive my vaccinations and book my flights. They had detailed packing lists and were always available to talk to when I had questions. Projects Abroad also had so many different programs in a multitude of locations. As a result, I intend to use them again for another medical volunteer trip in the spring.
What was your favorite part about Tanzania?
Tanzania, and subsequently Dar es Salaam, is quite large, so it is hard to choose one specific favorite. I loved that Dar es Salaam was a combination of an urban and rural city. I was able to see how all walks of life interacted within the city. I had access to hotels, restaurants, and night clubs, but I was also very close to rural areas where minimal modern necessities were available. In fact, I think that I need to return in order to see more!
What made your experience abroad unique?
I think my experience abroad was unique because of the amount of hands-on medical experience I was able to obtain, and the friends that I made.
The medical staff at the hospital allowed me to perform procedures I could have never had access to in the U.S., and they were great about telling me all of the details regarding each patient, especially when an ailment was on that was unique to Tanzania. My friends made the experience amazing. My roommate and one of my fellow volunteers at the hospital will definitely remain in my life forever. In fact, my friend who volunteered at the hospital with me is traveling from New Zealand to my hometown of Chicago next week to visit.
How did local Projects Abroad staff support you throughout your program?
The local Projects Abroad staff was phenomenal. They were always available to answer any questions or concerns we had. Godwin, my personal savior at Projects Abroad, took me on a personal full day orientation upon my arrival. He went with me on public transit to the hospital to show me how I would commute each day, took me on a tour of the hospital, and took me to the mall where I was able to get local currency and make my cellphone work. Additionally, the Projects Abroad office was always available. They held dance classes and Swahili classes in the office, and there were times when I just hung out there to talk to the staff. They coordinated social events to allow different volunteers to mingle, which was instrumental in me making the friends that I made. At one point I thought I had the flu, and Godwin was in constant communication with me to make sure I didn't require medical attention. Luckily, I only had a cold. The staff at the hospital was great, they were gracious and accommodating. They answered any questions I had and did not make me feel like an imposition. Dr. Stanley Maganga, my supervising physician, was adamant about helping me come out of my shell and learning as much as I wanted to learn. I remain in contact with him still!
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
If I could have done one thing differently it would have been to stay longer! Other than that, it would have been to have more self-confidence and be more assertive during my first two weeks at the hospital. I was initially a bit timid and reserved, choosing to observe as opposed to asking to assist the doctor. After my second week, two volunteers joined me in the hospital and I gained the confidence and self-assurance to have a more hands-on approach to my medical volunteering. The last two weeks were amazing, I was able to assist with so many different procedures and learned a lot.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
On weekdays, I would wake up around 7:30 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. and change into my scrubs. I would then sit down for breakfast with my housemates and house mother as we ate toast, the occasional potato or orange, and amazing Tanzanian tea. I walked from my home to the dala dala (local bus) stop which was nearly two miles away. I boarded the bus and rode for 5-10 minutes until I reached the hospital. I was at the hospital from about 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m or 4 p.m. and afterward walked with my fellow volunteers to the mall, or back to the bus stop and to my house. We would eat lunch at the house and play with the granddaughters of our house mother. They would have us help them with their homework and loved to play on our cellphones. I would then shower (showering in the morning was never really an option, you would be dripping in sweat by the time you got halfway to the dala dala) and relax in my room for a bit. I would either eat dinner at home with the family and relax for the night, or I would go out for dinner with fellow volunteers. My roommate and I would watch some TV on my computer or iPad, read and then go to bed!
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time I loved being around the other volunteers. Sometimes, we just hung out at the mall or the Projects Abroad office (both were air conditioned!) and other times we would go to local hotels, the beach, night clubs, or bars. On the weekends, we usually took trips. My first weekend trip was to Zanzibar, where five of us spent three days sightseeing, buying gifts for our families, snorkeling, paddleboarding, and swimming with sea turtles. My other weekend trip was to the Selous Game Reserve for a safari. Our group of five was driven six hours to the reserve, went on an evening boat safari, spent a full day at the reserve seeing the animals, and spent our last morning on a sunrise walking safari at the reserve. On our way back to Dar es Salaam, we stopped at a local village and learned about how people in very urban areas live. Our safari staff was great, we had a private chef making all of our meals and we stayed in motels that had hot water and comfortable beds!
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
My accommodation was great. The family was warm and generous, and really made my housemates and I feel welcomed. My roommate and I shared a room with two twin beds that were adorned with clean sheets and pillows. We each had a fairly large closet and enough outlets to charge our electronics. There was a security gate surrounding the home, and I felt very safe. The family provided us with great meals and lots of water. It took a while to get used to taking showers without hot water, but I learned that if I showered right after work (especially when I was sweaty from a two mile walk from the bus!) was the best way to bathe. The cold water felt great when I was hot. I think the best part of the accommodation was the family. My house mother "Mama" and housemaid "Dada" were sweet and friendly, and the multitude of grandchildren adored their new guests. They loved playing with our cell phones, showing us their homework, teaching us Swahili, and having us play games with them.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Every participant should be prepared with any kind of medication that you may need. I did not experience any stomach problems, but most others did. Luckily, I had every over-the-counter medication you could think of, which helped them immensely. Also, owning a large water bottle (one that keeps water cold) is vital. Females should be prepared for showers with very little water pressure and cold water. I had cut off a lot of hair prior to my trip, but girls with longer hair had some problems making sure it was clean. Also, do not wear black when you go to sleep, as it attracts mosquitos. I brought a lot of bug repellent with me, but I was still eaten alive. In many cases, purchasing local bug spray is the best option. I did just that and also bought a bug repellent vapor that plugged into the wall and kept my bed free of mosquitos. In general, doing extensive research about the country, knowing some of the customs (especially in areas where dress is more conservative), having bags that fit a lot during the day but are able to be zipped closed are vital. In general, be aware of your surroundings, be respectful of those around you, and try to immerse yourself in their culture as much as possible.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
My time abroad has impacted my life greatly. Every experience I have relates back to my time in Tanzania. I am constantly telling stories, looking at photos, and reminiscing with my friends that I made on my trip. Medically, I am extremely appreciative of the standard of healthcare available in the United States, and hope that I can create fundraising and volunteer opportunities when I am in graduate school. I am also grateful for everything that women have in the United States, as women do not have as many rights in African countries. As a result, I plan to take advantage of every opportunity offered to me, and try to appreciate everything that I am allowed to do in the United States.
Would you recommend Medicine and Healthcare in Tanzania with Projects Abroad to others? Why?
I would recommend this program wholeheartedly. They were organized and constantly available. I was nervous upon leaving, but knew that I was prepared due to the diligent efforts of the Projects Abroad staff. They made me feel appreciated, safe, and went out of their way to make the experience everything I could have wanted and more.
Taylor Anderson grew up in Newport Beach, California, and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2006 to attend Emory University. She majored in film studies and later moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in publicity. In 2014, Taylor moved to Chicago and realized that medicine was her calling. She is currently a CNA in a nursing home. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe with family.