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'I will treasure my experience in Tanzania forever'

Lauren Thomson
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This is my journey of my children’s nursing elective in Arusha, Tanzania, with ‘Plan my Gap Year’, at a government hospital. 

The excitement and nerves were bundling up inside me. After a long night flight, I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport. On the drive, we passed houses that were like little huts, just like you see on TV. Men, women, children walking the streets, with several different items on their heads. I arrived at what became my home for three weeks.

nursing elective in tanzania

nursing elective in tanzania

Lauren Thomson in Tanzania

I met other volunteers and our co-ordinators, who all became my friends. Monday, we had orientation around Arusha.

We were shown how to transport around on a dalla dalla, which is local transport (‘the African back massage’ people call it). We visited Masai markets, with women threading beads and people hand-carving wooden ornaments or painting beautifully. We learnt basic Swahili that would benefit us when travelling and on placement.

Monday to Friday was spent working in the hospital; on the paediatric ward, maternity and theatres.

Before my journey, I raised over £500 for medical resources. The hospital were incredibly grateful, particularly for the pulse oximetry meters, as pneumonia is common in children in Tanzania and oxygen saturation is something they couldn’t monitor.

“I particularly enjoyed showing compassion to children and families”

Patients had a range of conditions, from sepsis to HIV. Interestingly, I witnessed several pyrexic patients, who were not treated.

Also, long-term conditions such as epilepsy aren’t well-understood. A conversation with a doctor taught me that, lack of education meant parents attended prayer when seizures occurred, as it is seen as spiritual.

I did not see any mental health centres in Arusha either – interesting, considering the increase in the UK.

I particularly enjoyed showing compassion to children and families. I used my vision cards that had pictures and translations in English and Swahili to help overcome language barriers and stickers and funny faces to entertain the children.

In maternity, I assisted with bringing new precious lives into the world. Carrying out new-born observations is not common practice, nurses will take a new-born’s temperature 30 minutes after birth and that’s it.

Maternity was the most challenging. Volunteers and I led resuscitations on two babies, really testing my leadership and management skills.

Women are treated with little dignity and are told to be quiet while they scream in pain. Patients also bring their own resources into hospital, something unheard of in the UK.

Rewardingly, I was part of a fun and amazing project. Another volunteer purchased paint and we decorated the paediatric ward. Painting animals and sunrises really brightened up the ward, so it is now a real child-friendly environment.

On a public holiday, I spent a day in the orphanage surrounded by the happiest of children.

The orphans would have school, play-time, and eat porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The children were so happy and fascinated by things like playing with my hair, really putting things into perspective.

I chose Tanzania, as I’ve always wanted to visit Africa and experience working in a developing country. But also because of its worldwide known tourist attractions such as Mount Kilimanjaro and the beautiful national parks.

“I will never forget these trips”

Luckily I spent four days on a safari, to the Terengere, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater. Seeing the ‘big five’ and camping out under the star-lit sky, was simply incredible. I hiked up Mount Meru waterfall and relaxed at Hot Springs.

I will never forget these trips, they gave me the downtime needed from the challenging days faced in the hospital. 

I will treasure my experience forever. It has made me realise how lucky we are to have the NHS – a healthcare company that is free at the point-of-use, specialised and most importantly, cares. I encourage anyone who can to visit Tanzania for the opportunities and to embrace every second.

Asante Sana Tanzania for having such a positive, life-changing impact on my future career.

Lauren Thomson is a third-year child nursing student at Keele University

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