Friday, August 26, 2011

Final Thoughts

It has now been about 2 days since I have returned from Tanzania. This experience has taught me so much personally that I don’t feel like it will be totally digested for a number of months, however at this point I can effectively communicate some key points, which are fresh in my head.

I could not even fathom how much living in Tanzania could shift my perspective on the luxuries we have in Canada; specifically about what I had previously perceived as necessity and what was extra. This doesn’t end at the latest innovative piece of technology coming out, which obviously the vast majority of people in Tanzania cannot afford. It extends to amenities, which are viewed as incredibly basic here in Canada but must be hard earned and sometimes even fought for in Tanzania. It only takes a drive through some of the more disadvantaged neighborhoods to realize that not every house has running water, that multiple people must sometimes share a bed, and that money to buy food is not so easy to come by for many people. It doesn’t matter whether one finds himself or herself in a small town or a larger city, the poverty runs deep. In one of our activities, the medical and nursing students visited the homes of HIV patients with Mama Mhando and one of the nurses in Dr. Mhando’s clinic. Walking into a mud hut illuminated by candle light with no separation between kitchen, eating space, and bedroom is surreal, and makes me thankful for the living conditions I have grown accustomed to here in Canada. Seeing the boys of Children for Children’s future living happily in sometimes four children to a room with nothing but a soccer ball and each other to play with is a far cry from the video games, television, movies, and plethora of organized sports most children here in Canada have to keep themselves busy outside of school. I feel as though the line in my head separating what is needed and what is extraneous has shifted drastically, and I now know that many of the things I possess in Canada are not borne out of necessity. Having the opportunity to live in conditions that I don’t know I ever would have lived in outside of Africa, I realize that 12 people actually can share a bathroom with no lock, and somehow find a way to make it work. Having no electricity for a number of hours each day is certainly not ideal, but playing card games and enjoying the company of your friends by candlelight is fun too. Sitting down to go to the bathroom is somewhat of a luxury, and I will cherish every opportunity I have to sit on my porcelain throne (re:toilet). I am so thankful for this opportunity I have had to experience Tanzania as a member of the MedOutreach team, as I have a feeling that I have learned immensely more from the people I was trying to help than they might have learned from me. I also have found that I have learned a great deal from the rest of the MedOutreach team. It isn’t easy to go on such an intense adventure with 7 other people that before the trip you had only spent weekly meetings with. I have been humbled by the opportunity I have had to volunteer with incredible people who cared so deeply for the people around them. I feel as though I have learned about being a good teammate, thanks in large part to the model set before me by other members of MedOutreach. Thank you to the whole team for making MedOutreach such a positive experience, and I am confident that I have made lifelong friends with all of you.

There are a number of people who make MedOutreach possible. Thank you very much to Dr. Mhando, Mama Mhando, Neema, and Thomas for their help at all steps of organization of MedOutreach. Without them the volunteer work we do is not possible, as they aid us in our preparations In coming to Tanzania, and while we are there they help us plan out all the details of our work. Thank you to Dr. Julius, Dr. Frank, and the rest of the staff at Nkoaranga hospital. We learned a great deal about healthcare in Tanzania while at Nkoaranga, and your efforts to teach were very much appreciated. Thank you very much to the Dr. Baraka, and Dr. Lewis who were incredibly welcoming in the Kammed clinics and also made great efforts to teach. Thank you to Children for Children’s future at Arusha and Maji Ya Chai for the opportunity granted to us to spend time with the amazing children. Thank you to Dr. Tekle for taking in and teaching the dental students, they only had positive things to say about their experiences in Arusha. Also thank you to the staff at Dr. Tekle’s clinic for all of their support. Thank you to the staff at Upendo Leprosy Home, where the nurses learned a great deal and had a lot of fun spending time and getting to know the patients. Thank you to all of the great primary and secondary schools whom allowed us into their classrooms and the opportunity to teach their children about various important healthcare topics in Africa. Thank you very much to everyone who gave money, came out to an event, or gave any sort of moral support while we fund-raised for MedOutreach. Our goal of 60 000 $ is lofty to say the least, but once we got to Tanzania we worked very hard to ensure that the money goes a long way, and that sustainable health care is delivered to the people with the dollars that we spend. Without all of everyone’s support MedOutreach would not have been possible, so from the bottom of our hearts thank you so much for this experience which has allowed us to help and has also taught us so much about ourselves. We are looking forward very much to the selection of next year’s team. We are confident in our ability to choose a team that will continue to build and improve on healthcare in Tanzania. We feel as though we have accomplished a lot this summer, but remain optimistic that the best is yet to come.


Friday, August 12, 2011

This and That

Mt. Meru
In what has been arguably the most physically and mentally demanding challenge I have ever encountered, was Mt. Kilimanjaros contender- Mt. Meru. Now Mt. Meru sits at approximately 4562.13m vs. Kili’s 5896.67m. One should not be fooled by the difference in height between the two. What we thought was going to be a leisurely 3 day hike turned into a grueling, knee-numbing, spirit- shattering event which shook the group to its very core. The weekend started easily enough, hiking up a slightly inclined dirt trail complete with grazing giraffes and beautiful waterfalls. An American tour guide named Pete was also doing the trail out of interest before leading a troupe of tourists up Kilimanjaro. He was full of great advice which kept the day easier, and was fun to talk to. On the second day, things got a little harder. The incline was a little steeper, and we went up a seemingly endless arrangement of wooden stairs. Although the group may have been huffing and puffing with a little more gusto, the day was managed well enough and we made it to camp in good time. Marc’s spirits were lifted once he spotted and shouted George Laroque’s name (former Montreal Canadian and all around badass hockey player) across the mess hall and got to take a picture with him. That night, things quickly turned. On summit day the group woke up at 12 AM and after a quick snack the days trek began. “If the whole day is like this then getting to the summit should be pretty easy!” You spoke to soon Marc. In the pitch black with nothing but our apparently not nearly bright as they have to be to climb mountains headlamps, rock faces were climbed. I remember a genuine fear that every step I took navigating my way through the rocks could be a misstep leading to certain death. I was not sure whether my racing heart was due to the physical nature of the climb, the altitude, or the invading fear that I would die before getting to the summit of Mt Meru. In between scary rock climbs, we had to climb up incline scree (loose rocks that are easy to slip on) that made the rock faces seem like my La-Z-Boy recliner that I veg out on after a hard days work back home. It felt like I tripped every 10th step. There were only ever two options- one foot in front of the other or stop and go to sleep. It was difficult to reach into my jacket pocket for my water or into my bag for a snack. All I know is that for the most part I didn’t stop walking even though every joint in my body, my brain, and my cold skin told me to sit down, huddle in any sort of warmth I can find, and give up. It was my heart, and I believe I can say that for the rest of the group, that kept me going. I believe that on this grueling 6 hour climb to the summit of Mt Meru everyone learned something about themselves, and I am proud of each and every one of the 5 Medoutreach members conquered Mt. Meru. After a quick photo op at the summit the group started to make its way down the mountain. It was arguably worse then summiting. Another four hours down to the camp site we started from and a quick lunch was our reward for our efforts. As I began to lay down to take maybe a short nap before completing our downward trek a violent knock on the door woke me and I was told we would be leaving in 5 minutes. We then proceeded to go down the last 3500 metres of the mountain in about 4 hours. When all was said and done, we had spent 15 hours hiking that day and everyone was completely exhausted. Now that we are back at home, we can distantly see the summit of Mt. Meru. Although we feel as though the mountain glares at us, mocking us for our ignorance, we have had the last laugh. Although, I must say, I am petrified to climb Kilimanjaro after the MedOutreach program comes to a close. And if I may impart some wisdom to our dear readers: don’t climb a mountain unless you love pain and suffering.

School Teachings
One of the events that had excited the MedOutreach group was our opportunity to do school teachings for secondary and primary school students. We divided ourselves into four teams of two and taught about multiple topics: sex education, diabetes, substance abuse, disability, and oral (health?) and hygiene. Each team of two had a question box to answer all of the questions posed by the students at the end of the session. This was a very positive experience for us. We had the opportunity to teach important topics and also had the kids direct some of their own learning by asking us anonymous questions and participating in disability workshops. The kids were incredibly receptive to our teachings, and listened very intently to our words. We hope that we have educated them the importance of proper healthcare. The question sessions demonstrated the great curiosity and intelligence of the children Being able to teach young children about health was a welcome change of pace, as many of the members of the team have a keen interest in teaching, so on the whole our experiences doing school teachings was awesome.

Dental Clinic
After spending two weeks working with Dr. Frank Akyoo at Nkoranga Hospital, the dental students continued their community services at the Seventh Day Adventist Dental Clinic in the town of Njiro. The students were warmly greeted and welcomed by Dr. Tekle (DDS), Dr. Kingazi (DTH), Dr. Zumo (DTH) as well as the rest of the staff team.
A total of 16 days were spent working at the SDA clinic. Our working days ran from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Thursday and 8:30am to 1:00pm on Fridays. We performed amalgam and composite fillings, extractions, cleanings, and composite veneers, with periodic supervision from the covering dentists. More complicated extractions were performed by the covering dentists while we assisted.
On July 20th and 21st, Andy and Cara decided to reach out to the community by organizing a community dental clinic. Locals within the surrounding villages were invited to come to SDA clinic for free dental care and services. Announcements for the clinic were primarily made through different churches. Dr. Tekle kindly provided the use of his clinic and staff for translation, while we provided the materials required for procedures, and also performed all the procedures. A total of 17 patients were seen over the two-day span. These patients were extremely grateful for the dental work that we performed for them.
Over a period of 3 days, the MO dental team screened 17 children at CCF Arusha and 23 at CCF Maji ya Chai. Screenings involved checking the teeth for caries, as well as a screen for maxillofacial cancer. Screenings were done on evenings and weekends. They were completed on site at CCF Arusha and CCF Maji ya Chai. If problems were noted, patients were brought into the SDA clinic from July 26th to 28th and on August 9th. Any dental treatments that were required were completed at the clinic. Services were provided by the dental students, and were focused primarily on extractions and fillings. For treatments deemed more complicated, arrangements were made for the children to come back in the future to be seen for treatment by the covering dentists. All of these dental procedures were not possible without the generous donations of dental supplies from various supporters and companies in Canada.
At the end of the term at SDA clinic, all of the unused sundries were donated to the clinic. Andy and Cara both enjoyed this wonderful experience, and are looking forward to sharing their experiences upon return to Canada.

Until next time...much love from the MedOutreach Clan

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Long time, no blog?

Dear avid followers of the blog to end all blogs,

Pole sana (we’re very sorry) for our long delay in updating our blog! Time is flying by here and we’ve been keeping very busy over the past few weeks. We thought we’d briefly mention what we’ve been up to, with a few special highlights from each of us at the end. Last time we left off we had just finished our two weeks of work at the Nkoaranga hospital, and we were happy to be back in civilization and settle into Centre House.

• Our first week back (July 11-15) the meds and nursing students spent time at Dr. Mhando’s clinics (Engira and Bondeni). The dents started their work with Dr. Tekle, who they’ll be working with for the remainder of their time here.
• On the weekend all 8 of us travelled to Zanzibar to enjoy some relaxing time on the beach. Unaccustomed to the African sun, most of us left with memorable sunburns (a first for Supriya!), which we’ve thankfully recovered from.
• Last week (July 18-22) we split ourselves up, with Caleigh, Christina, Supriya and I (Hilarie) staying a few nights at CCF Maji Ya Chai and working at the Upendo Leprosy home. Working at the Leprosy home was an amazing experience for all of us. We got to do lots of wound care in the mornings and helped with cleaning etc. around the home. Then in the afternoons, our favourite time of the day, we led the mazuezi (=exercise) class that last years nursing students, Sam and Courtney, implemented as a way to get everyone out. CCF (Children for Chilren’s Future) is an organization that provides street children with a place to live outside the city, giving them the invaluable chance to go to school. Marc and Harpreet made the daily commute to join us in the afternoons hanging out with the CCF boys, where we tried not to embarrass ourselves playing soccer with them. We all had a great time getting to know the boys before conducting their medical screenings on the weekend.
• On Friday we went back to Nkoaranga hospital for the grand opening of their new paediatric ward. The building of the ward was initiated by a young paediatric nurse from Belgium (Tanya). She got the idea back in 2008 when she volunteered at the hospital for 6 months. She then returned home and fundraised all the money needed over the past few years. It was inspirational seeing all of her friends, family and donors who also came for the opening.
• This week we’re conducting screenings for the Upendo HIV group – a group of 70 HIV-positive patients that we provide annual medical care for.

Side Bar Updates:
• The roosters have yet to fail as our daily alarm clock; no matter what village, tent or building we spend the night in.
• We have adopted 2 stray cats, multiple geckos, and a mysterious bull frog that lives in the walls and has yet to show its face.
• Following our Marathon run last month, Christina is now 3 toe nails short.
• The solution to a stray dog roaming around the hospital campus is to slap a collar around its neck; one way in which the hospital jazzed up its appearance for the 100 Mzungus (white people) attending the opening ceremony of the paediatric ward.
• Dala-dala strike. The LTC strike has nothing on the mayhem that encompasses the streets of Arusha when their version of public transportation
• Ice-cream cones – AWESOME!
• Coming back from Maji Ya Chai with what we thought was a tan…only to see it wash down the drain as we showered for the first time in days
• Days/ nights without power and running water no longer phase us
• 10 people in a 5-seater taxi= pleasantly cozy. One of our many new norms.

To sum things up, we are all having a wonderful time as we learn about the Tanzanian culture, ourselves, and the medical knowledge & experiences we are gaining with each new day. Although situations are not always ideal and some days we are left feeling a little discouraged, we have learned to hold onto the small accomplishments along the way. Whether it’s sharing a moment with a mother and her newborn child, partaking in the thrills of laughter during a game of soccer, or witnessing the eminent joy as we hand out the donated gifts and photos taken in the year previous.

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”- Eckhard Tolle

Hilarie, Caleigh and the MedOutreach Gang