First Aid Africa is a charity that works to provide first aid training to local people across several sub-Saharan countries. Volunteers are recruited from the UK universities, such as The University of Edinburgh First Aid Africa Society – this is how I became a volunteer.
Before my journey to Arusha, Tanzania I had several training sessions – a comprehensive first aid course and teacher training – in Edinburgh. I must admit that I was still fairly nervous. There was the prospect of actually having to stand at the front of a classroom and teach and then I had to do this in a country where both language and culture could not be more foreign to me.
My first experience of Tanzania was at 2.00am at night, following 10 hours on a plane. The roads were chaotic and I was horrified when our bus ran a red light. The 10 hour bus journey was incredibly surreal – the country looked like something I have only ever seen on a television screen. Everywhere was so busy and full of life – I loved it immediately.
We had three days of inductions, which helped me to settle in to the country, and also to practice teaching. By the end of inductions I was so excited and felt completely ready to go on placement and start teaching! I was partnered with Anna, who I vaguely knew from university.
Anna and I were living with a family. Lucas, who was a contact to First Aid Africa, spoke perfect English. Lucas lived with his wife, 5 year old son and parents. Their house was fairly basic – there was electricity (although we quickly got used to regular power cuts!) and there was a television but no fridge. Our room did not have a door, only a curtain, which gave us a constant stream of visitors from not only Lucas’ son Noele, but also from Noele’s two cousins Karin (5) and Katherine (8), who lived next door. Cooking occurred on a small charcoal stove that produced smoke that travelled all over the house. The food was almost always far too salty, sweet, or oily – fresh fruit quickly became one of the most welcome things to us! Then there was a shed outside, which had a ‘toilet’ hole and also doubled as a ‘shower’ (which consisted of using a scoop and a cold bucket of water to wash…). The only running water came from a tap outside. When we first arrived only Lucas’ mother and Frida, who was to be our translator for the next four weeks, were there. Neither of them spoke perfect English.
Anna and I had a couple of days of slight culture shock. But despite being thrown into this strange world, the hospitality of Lucas’ family was incredible, and we very quickly grew to love the family and their beautiful home.
We quickly got round to first aid teaching. In the 4 weeks we were to teach 1 group of school girls and 3 women’s groups. In addition we were to teach a group of school teachers a more advanced course, as well as an incredible group of women from the Masai Tribe who lived about an hour’s drive away in a more rural area.
For me, teaching first aid was by far the highlight of my trip, and one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Anna and I quickly formed a well-established unit and I was amazed how confident I became, even with class sizes of over 50! We taught some standard first aid, like the recovery position and bandaging wounds. Some of the material we taught was more applicable to Africa. We taught people what to do if they were bitten by snakes (just stay calm!) and what to do in the case of burns. I was fascinated by the impact that traditional medicine had had on people in these areas. For example, out of the over 150 people we taught only one person came up with the correct idea of holding a burnt area under cold water. All other people suggested using traditional, and potentially harmful, methods to treat burns.
Teaching also came with its challenges. There were language barriers, and working with a translator was not always easy. As most of us would know, learning first aid is very practical and requires everyone’s participation. Possibly due to cultural differences or as a result of different methods of teaching, it was often difficult to encourage our groups to practice on each other. This took me by complete surprise in our very first lesson, where it was exceptionally difficult to get our school girls to practice the recovery position.
But even the challenges of teaching came with rewards. I surprised myself by how much Swahili I managed to learn. It was always fun to be able to respond properly to the typical ‘jambo’ that is said to all the tourists, and to see the surprised and often delighted locals.
My experiences in Tanzania are ones that I will always remember fondly. I am excited to one day return to this fantastic country with its incredible people. I would like to thank the Principles’ Go Abroad Fund for making my journey a possibility.