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MAWENZI HOSPITAL-PSYCHIATRY WARD

My visit to the Psych Ward was short and bitter.

Sometimes I am really stubborn and never listen, and this one was one of those times. I was advised by the administration not to visit the psychiatry ward out of ward-round times due to the patients being dangerously aggressive. Not only I did not listen, but even worse I decided to visit it when no healthcare professionals were currently in.

I first visited the men’s ward. I shall never forget the way the patients were kept. Before I went in, as I was still standing outside the ward, I noticed this patient standing at the window gazing outside at me. I don’t think I have ever seen a sharpest, coldest gaze. I walked in and was overwhelmed by the smell of urine. I look at my left and I see literally just a room with NO objects in it, practically a cage with patients roaming around. One of them came and stood by the door and looked at me, then dropped his pants and started urinating. Needless to say that within a split of second I ran out of there.

As if that was not enough to satisfy my curiosity, I decided to visit the female ward as well. I first walked in and looked at my right. There was a solid metal door, shut and locked, that only had small holes on it through which the patients were gazing out – it gave me the chills. And then I turn my head to the left and I see this patient on the loose shouting and running after me; I immediately jumped out and ran away until I found a doctor and alarmed him about the situation.

I know you would expect that I’d never step my foot again in the Psych War, but the next day I was back, at least this time though for the ward-round.

THE ARISE COMMUNITY SCHOOL

WHAT AND WHERE

The Arise Community School is located in an impoverished village, Sanya Juu, in the outskirts of Moshi. It is built among fields and consists of a huge playing pitch, an under-construction playground, a kitchen, a standard looking school toilet room, a house for the children staying in overnight and 6 classrooms (with one of them under-construction) – and the most important thing is that the school is built of concrete.

The School started off as a small-scale school back in 2013 consisting of one class of 11 students. The Arise Family has now grown to around 250 students – taking some huge strides! In the meantime, since some children do not have supervision or care back home during most of the day due to their parents working long-hours, Frank decided to start hosting 33 of the children for overnight stay at the Arise Home, next to the school. The children are looked after by a wonderful lady, Lucy in term time, and visit home during holidays(we bought the school a washing machine, using a portion of the money we fundraised, for Lucy to use as she previously spent an average of 5 hours a day washing all the clothes the 33 children in the Arise home) . The school also provides food for all the children attending to ensure that they have at least one proper meal a day.

Children between the ages of 3 and 14 can attend the school which provides pre-primary and primary education to them (children in Tanzania finish primary school when they are 14). Even though in Tanzania primary education is Swahili based and secondary and higher education are English based, the Arise school aims to teach children in both languages in order to enhance their language skills. Each year consists of one class of students and a different teacher responsible to teach the children basic subjects. The students move to the higher level after they pass successfully their current year’s exams.

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THE CHILDREN

Whoever knows me well, also knows that I am not the greatest when it comes to handling children. This time, however, I really felt like I was enjoying myself around them.

My first encounter with them was on a Saturday afternoon during the Kidsmaini Fun Club – a Saturday afternoon playing session for all the children of the community. We spent hours and hours playing all sorts of games with them – these kids are pros at sports – I felt a 70 year old woman compared to them! After that, we had a snack and lollipops – I established that sugar drives everyone crazy…universally! During the evening, when we were left with the 33 ‘inmates’ we decided to polish the nails of whoever was up for it – as you would imagine the boys were in the beginning indifferent about it, but to my surprise, a brave one, Daudi, came to me and asked to have his nails done. The following pestering from the others was a great opportunity for me to teach them about stereotypes Vs gender-neutral behaviours – by the end of it I had a bunch of girls AND boys showing off their freshly polished toenails – Win! What a day.

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Throughout the following month I was stunned by a couple of things about these children. To start with, they may have nothing, yet they are the HAPPIEST children I have seen. No laptops or internet, no expensive toys or holidays, yet they had smiles extending from one ear to the other. I am in deep thoughts about this age of consumerism we live in and the effects it has on our society – a society starving for money and goods, missing the entire point of life – investing in experiences which pay off better and create memories which last for a lifetime. I guess that the happiness I saw reflects not only how different their perspective on life is from ours, but also that the school must be good to them – it embraces them as a family. There is no chance (based on my experiences from the school) that those children would shine consistently with such joy and happiness if there was the slightest thing going wrong in the school. Anyway, back to my initial point. Another thing I admire about these children is their manners. The Arise Family has done and keeps doing an amazing job in cultivating the children’s behaviour and it does reflect in the fact that I never saw any child bully, mock with mean intentions or isolate another child. The school is inclusive and welcoming: girls play football and that’s OKAY (so different from the mockery I faced over a decade ago when I expressed I did not want to talk about Barbies with the girls and instead wanted to play football with the boys) and boys can get their nails polished without being labelled with awful remarks. The greatest of all was watching girls being a lot of the times the captains in mixed-gender teams – GO GIRLS! As a result of gender equality, there is no segregation.  In addition to that, there is also equality in attention received, opportunities and responsibilities.

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KIDSMAINI FUN CLUB

Playing is not part of the lives of Tanzanian children. Children are often viewed as a pair of working hands and therefore are most of the time encouraged to work whenever they have the time, something that puts education and playing last on the list of priorities.

Kidsmaini fun club is held every Saturday afternoon at the Arise School with the aim to encourage children to engage in playing activities.

You can imagine the importance of this club particularly to those children who are not part of the Arise School and therefore only get one chance a week – the Kidsmaini Fun Club Day – to be carefree.

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FRANK AND SALOME

Frank and Salome are the people behind this. Frank, the founder of the school, is from Sanya Juu and has a degree in project development. When his parents gave him some fields they had next to their house, he decided to use them in a way that the entire community would benefit from them, rather than just use them to satisfy his own interests. On top of that, his parents gave up their house in order to house the 33 children staying there overnight, and they moved to another house – talk about altruism and selflessness!

Despite the fact that children’s parents pay a small fee for their children to attend the school, none of it is used by Frank. The school does not receive yet any financial support from the government, and therefore, any money collected goes towards the running expenses of the school (electricity and water bills), expanding the building (thery were building new classrooms and a playground when I was there), and paying for the children’s food and the teacher’s salaries. Frank therefore, has to work a second job to support his family – he in charge of his own building team, undertaking different construction jobs.

His wife, Salome, works full time at the school and his children are all students at the school.

I was impressed by both Frank’s and Salome’s hospitality and the love and care they put into the school, and I was very inclined to learn from their actions. I think the most significant messages they passed on to me throughout the month we visited the school were –

  1. Altruism – doing good without expecting anything in return makes you a happy and content person.
  2. Take initiatives – despite how impossible it was for Frank to achieve what he achieved taking in consideration the circumstances, he believed in himself and the good of the people and managed to create something extraordinary.
  3. Invest in education – I mean we all hear all the time that investing in education is perhaps the best way you can spend your money, nevertheless, I never really grasped the idea until I visited the school and realised that the education it provided to its children would be a game changer in their lives and perhaps the only means through which change forward could be brought in their community.

Frank, Frank and Salome, and Frank’s Parents.

DONATIONS

Some of the money we collected went to buying Lucy a washing machine and building playground equipment and new classrooms.

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For more information on how to sponsor a child please contact Sue and Ron Hayes (ACE Charity)

Website: http://www.acecharity.org/index.html

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AfricaChildreninEducation/

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THE VILLAGE OF WIRI

During one of our visits at the Arise School we followed some children back home after the classes were finished. I was shocked to find out that some of them had to leave home at 05:00 in the morning and walk long distances in order to make it to school for their classes; and yet I remember complaining having to wake up at 07:00 to be driven to school for 08:00 by dad – what a luxury.

The children we followed were of the lucky ones to live close by, in the Village of Wiri. I think this was one of the most horrible yet eye-opening days I had in Tanzania.

The majority of houses we visited consisted of one room with a ‘bed’ on which as many as 7 people would sleep on. The houses only had 2-3 holes through which let some sun rays pass through. Needless to say that there was no proper sanitation and no electricity.

The saddest part was that the majority of houses were run by single mothers whose husbands magically disappeared one day – with no justification.

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These are the houses people live in at Wiri. You can see how their kitchen and toilet are not even proper built units.

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Children searching for clean water

A notable case was Pascali’s (7) family. Things are difficult as Pascali’s mother has to walk a long distance into the woods to cut barks and then carry that back so that she can sell it off and get paid just enough to get food for the house. Pascali was lucky enough to have a sponsor and attend Arise School. Unfortunately, his sister Esta (4) did not get that chance. Pascali felt that him receiving education while Esta was left all day long alone in the fields around their house was pretty unfair so he made sure he taught her everything he learned at school during the afternoon when he was home.

I will never forget the view we were faced with when reaching Pascali’s house. Esta was exploring the fields all alone. We called her to come closer but she seemed sceptical and aloof. She then started hamming a song children sing in Arise. Pascali told us he taught her how to sing it and my heart melted. While I was stood there watching this little girl in torn and dirty clothes, holding a piece of plastic digging in the field I heard this fierce noise of an engine. I turn around to see that it was two men who live in another house close by, roaming in the village using a motorcycle. And I thought to myself… How easy would it be for anyone in their position to get off the motorcycle, approach Esta and abuse her? How easy would it be considering there is no house around hers for someone to look out for her, when her one and only parent is working hard far away to bring home some bread and her brother being away at school? Easy-peasy.

Sometimes we turn a blind eye to situations which make us feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable not only because they are harshly unfair but also because we feel as though we have shared responsibility – which we, most of the times, do not take. And we know that. We know that being ignorant is easy; easier than accepting that, firstly, there is a problem, and secondly that there is something WE can do about it. Self-efficacy is the term I am looking for.

We found Esta a sponsor by the end of our trip. Esta now no longer wears torn clothes and is no longer exposed alone. She goes to school with Pascali and she returns home with Pascali. Esta now has equal chances of flourishing. Esta is no longer the lost gone girl in the fields who did not know how to smile. She is now a vibrant young girl thirsty for knowledge who is given her chance to prove her abilities.

Esta helped me have an insight of the harsh reality millions of children are facing. Esta was lucky to find a sponsor.

Would you consider to sponsor a child and end its misery? Protect it?

All of the children of the world are OUR shared responsibility.

Esta’s story reminds me of the lyrics of this Greek song which says “The world will change neither with mere discussions nor with prayers”.

Things do not magically happen – they get done.

 

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Esta (top); her mother carrying wood (bottom).

For more information on how to sponsor a child please contact Sue and Ron Hayes (ACE Charity)

Website: http://www.acecharity.org/index.html

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AfricaChildreninEducation/

NEW WALTER

I first heard about Walter (W) before visiting his school, Arise Community School, for voluntary work early during my stay in Tanzania. I remember sitting in our house’s common room at dusk with the rest of the group when our coordinator started sharing W’s story. I remember feeling tightness around my chest while she was unfolding all the details bit by bit; I always feel that way when I am facing an unfair and harsh reality.

W’s story started with the word ‘violence’. During a physically violent outburst of his uncle W tried to escape and was then thrown a stick. Not being lucky enough, the stick hit him in the eye leaving the boy with something that wasn’t just a minor injury – W was left with one eye. One eye. I cannot imagine the physical pain one experiences when losing an eye which is of the most sensitive parts of our body, let alone the psychological trauma experienced afterwards. W stopped going to school for two whole months and this had tremendous effects on his literacy, social life and overall health. When forced by his mother to go to school, he would put salt on the wound. It sounds awful and one would wonder why cause more pain to yourself, but wouldn’t anyone in his position do whatever possible in order to hide from the public eye? Shame and worthlessness are commonly felt emotions among the abused I was once told. Upon his return to school, W was not welcomed with sympathy or empathy. He was instead called the ‘blind boy’. W would often set off to school and hide in maize fields for the day away from all the mockery, bad commenting, staring and gossiping of people. He would hide for long hours and then join his schoolmates’ journey back home pretending to his family he was returning from a long day at school; obviously there were consequences when his family found out about  his clever plan.

Frank got to know W and his story when W started joining the school every Saturday for Kidsmaini fun club. Frank then visited his house to learn more about the conditions W lived in and then offered W to join the school properly as some volunteers from the USA wanted to sponsor him for schooling; unfortunately promises were not kept and W was left disappointed. Thanks to Frank he remained in Arise School and was put on the ‘to be sponsored list’.

The Arise School is now family to W. Family to me is a concept I do not relate to blood. Family is a team that works for the catholic good of its members and gives equal chances of survival to all of them. Family should  make you feel loved, worthy, important, included, confident in yourself, embraced and accepted the way you are. Family has the ability of moulding you and the resulting ‘shape’, often if not always, determines your chances out there in the jungle. There is  a reason why I often call it the Arise Family and not just the Arise School – and I am glad W is part of it.

W, now 12, is a tall, thin,affectionate, beautiful boy who is always smiling and has excellent manners.The first time I spent a significant amount of  time with him was when we took a couple of Arise kids to an animal park. I felt an instant bond with this child and a lot of admiration of his ability to live so enthusiastically after what he has been through. If I were to make a list of the words that came to my mind when looking at him I would say ‘happy, slightly mischievous, slightly shy, leader, fearless, motivated and curious’. I was mostly struck by his curiosity about his surroundings and the workings of our world. I once read somewhere that the future belongs to the curious – when I met W I was convinced this notion must be valid.

I, therefore, decided to help provide a better future for W along with the Arise Family and give him the means to conquer the world on his own terms. I knew that what was most important to W at the time was to feel more equal and wanted. We therefore started by arranging a hospital appointment for him to have a prosthetic eye fitted – such an eye would not restore W’s lost ability to see through both eyes, but it would serve the aesthetics we were after. Frank and W’s mother escorted little W to the hospital to have the procedure done. When I received the photos, I could not believe the work that was done (see for yourself!).  Frank told us that W now calls himself ‘New Walter’ – brand new indeed!

People often ask how much it cost. It only cost me around 60 EUR, including the transport, for it to become reality. I could hardly believe that such an amount of money that seems to be very small according to our standards and can hardly satisfy any of us, at the same time, managed to change the world of a child.

Having completed my first aim, I then discussed with ACE about sponsoring W’s education. I heard Frank often say that W learns with no fear. I am sure that knowing that there is someone out there securing his place in the school would help him learn even more with no fear.

Walter is now my little hero and my promise to him is a life with better opportunities.

Walter before (left); New Walter (right)

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Our excursion to the animal park

HEAD WASH

Towards the end of our stay we visited a state school, located very near from the Arise Community School. It is the School Frank attended – oh and his teacher is still there teaching! Our aim was to wash the children’s hair in order to treat fungal infections, and also give them pencils and pens to use in their upcoming exams.

Initially, I thought the atmosphere was similar to that of Arise School’s.

As time passed by though I was proven wrong.

The headmaster of the school hit a boy before our eyes – a habit common in Tanzanian state schools.

The teachers did not seem to have the altruism the Arise teachers have.

And the children, on a very superficial and general level, were very different as well. I was quite heartbroken about the fact that they kept bullying each other and even mocking us – people who were there for their benefit. Particularly, there was a specific gang of boys who would bully any other boy who wanted his head washed and who also mocked the way I spoke Swahili to them, in a nasty way.

I was not angry at them.

I was angry at the situation of their school. A school ran by a physically abusive headmaster, who only put on his friendly mask for us, the outsiders, and some teachers who couldn’t care less about either the children’s progress or manners.

Despite my disappointment, however, I am glad I visited this school as well since it gave me the chance to wake up from the whole Arise Family dream and have a more objective view of what the educational sector of Tanzania really entails.

As much as I wanted it to be, the Arise Family was not representative of the wider situation; it was, and is, instead an extraordinary phenomenon there.

DISPENSARY

People living in villages across Tanzania do not have the same healthcare opportunities as people living in more urban environments – some of them may be 60 year-olds who have NEVER been to a doctor.

We therefore decided to hold a dispensary at the Arise School for people from the surrounding areas to come and use our facilities for free.

We worked in 4 teams: two initial stations where vital signs were taken from the patients and two consultation rooms.

Overall, I was satisfied with the work we did as a lot of people got to either deal with minor issues on the spot, get tested for malaria and blood sugar, receive medication for free and get referred to the hospital had they had more complex conditions that needed to be dealt with.

I think this was by far the most exhausting day of all during the month after having seen over 100 patients within 6 hours (and that was only half of the people seen, as another dispensary was later held by the members of the team who stayed in Tanzania for another 2 weeks).

And I know 100 is just a number for you and it is indeed hard to have the time to pay attention to little things when finding yourself in a chaotic situation of having to deal with so many people at once, and yet I am happy I made the time to communicate visually with the patients, since language was a communication barrier. I love reading peoples’ faces, trying to guess where they come from and what story they have to tell and share – I often feel as though I have the ability to listen to what someone has to say using my eyes.

I took good note of the way I approached the situation that day facing each patient as an individual and not merely a number, despite how easy it would be to go by option 2. After all, I will be facing similar situations on multiple occasions in my (hopefully) future career, so it was a useful training session for me, an inexperienced medical student.

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MOSHI: THE CITY

Moshi is a town at the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. Its population is about 200,000 which surprised me because Moshi seems to be small in size, but I guess it must be very densely populated. It is quite a built up city and the majority of its population has significantly better living standards than the people in the surrounding villages.

It has a major road which gives access to the central bus station providing transport to surrounding villages and major cities like Arusha and Dar es Salaam. Off the main road you can find the Mawenzi hospital, a couple of night clubs/bars and different cafes and restaurants serving mostly westernized food. The main road is full of shops ranging from tailors, shops with arts and crafts, kiosks, pharmacies, banks and phone providers to markets selling shoes, clothes and fresh fruit and veg – I have to say that the market people have some excellent marketing skills! The main road also gives access to the city’s Mosque and the Hindu temple.

I would say the majority of people in Moshi make a living by selling goods in the city centre. The outskirts of the city seem to be used more for family housing and growing crops. The people in the city have better standards of living due to having easier and better access to healthcare, education, transport and job opportunities. Another important thing I noticed was that people in the city were as welcoming as people in the villages – generally, I felt no difference in the way I was approached by people in urban and rural areas which is something I was not expecting. I am not sure whether that is because the urban life of Moshi is still a lot more laid back than the urban life of a corresponding city in a ‘western’ country. There always seems to be no rush and no worries.

Perhaps, the only thing I really did not like about Moshi was the catcalling I received from men, for being white and female. I have to say I would not feel comfortable roaming around alone particularly because I could tell that a lot of the cat calling was not from men who just wanted to tease you in the street; they were the sort of type to chase you down if given the opportunity.

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MOSHI: THE DALA DALA

Perhaps what I found to be the most prominent symbol of urban life in Tanzania was the Dala Dala. They are minibuses which go around in circles in the cities. The majority of them have fixed routes (you can  recognize the route by the colour of them) running continuously between early morning to late night and some of them are publicly run. They are not the most safe mode of transport as they drive in speeds not suitable for the infrastructure of the cities, obviously have no safety measures i.e. seat belts, and they are severely overcrowded. They have a driver at the front and a ‘conductor’ at the back being in charge of the door of the minibus which slides sideways. His job is to convince people to get in his Dala Dala and receive the money.

A typical ride with a Dala Dala would start off by having the conductor getting off the Dala Dala to come physically pull us into it or spend ages convincing us to get on it. Something that made me feel very uncomfortable was that a lot of locals would get off their seats to offer it to us. I would of course refuse to take the seat of another person and was often frustrated at the praise I was receiving merely because of my skin colour. Why does skin colour have to be such a determinant factor in the respect and opportunities one has? Anyway, we would then try either sit down all squashed up or stay stood up, which felt like surfing on a boiling surfboard (as the floor of the minibuses was made of metal and was directly over the mechanical systems of the car). Following that, I would feel people stroke my hair or touch my shoulders; white people symbolize privilege in Tanzania and so there is this common belief that if you touch a white person then you will have luck in your life. Once more, I was frustrated not because I was being touched, but rather because I did not see how or why being ‘white’ (which I am not I am just whiter than them), made me superior in any way to the locals.

The most frightening experience I had in Moshi was actually in a Dala Dala. We took it after our shift at the hospital was done to go to the house. I was with Anj. The others had gone to grab lunch. We got on the Dala Dala which at some point stopped, and the conductor asked all the locals to get out of the Dala Dala and join the next one on. Not understanding what was going on, we found ourselves alone with the conductor and driver who started driving off again. And there I was sitting alone with Anj, the conductor for the first time ever sat down on a chair and closed both the side door and its window and just stared at us, while the driver started taking a completely different path to the one he’d normally take (of course Anj and I who were the most ‘better safe than sorry’ minds of the group had already memorized the route and always kept checking on the driver). No need to elaborate further, I think you get how terrified we were assuming what the driver and the conductor were on. It may sound ridiculous to you but following that I reached in my first aid kit to grab the first aid scissors I had in case I needed to attack someone, and threatened the conductor that of he didn’t stop the Dala Dala for us to get off I would kill him – It is okay if you laughed, I laugh myself whenever I say the story and I am currently laughing as I am writing this. But in all honesty, when you are found in a scenario which is possibly a life or death situation, quite a lot of survival mechanisms and instincts, always accompanied by a BIG adrenaline rush, come to the surface. Reflecting back on it you are left stunned at yourself because you didn’t even know you could ever react in such a way.

I was later trying to explain the above story to a wise and beloved uncle back home, and he explained to me why I felt the way I did using the Johari window as an example. The Johari window is a model I deeply agree with. I guess that event brought to the surface some of my unknown character traits.

I was glad the driver stopped and let us out of the car eventually. The some serious orientation skills were used to find our way back to the house from the stranded roads he dropped us off in.

 

*Photo taken from TrekEarth

A DAY IN ARUSHA

It was on a Saturday that we decided to visit the nearby city of Arusha.

Arusha is a lot more built-up than Moshi and also crazy busy and packed.

We unfortunately did not get much time to explore it, but I would definitely recommend it for its Maasai Markets – this is where I found really beautiful presents for my family – and good food.

MOUNT KILIMANJARO

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest point in the entire continent of Africa, thus commonly known as the roof of Africa, at 5,895 m above sea level.

Mt Kili is a dormant volcano with 3 volcanic cones: Kibo, Shira and Mawenzi (thus the hospital name). It is of the most famous destinations for trekking and is currently under scrutiny because of it is melting glaciers.

We couldn’t always spot Mt Kili from Moshi, but when we could, what can I say… It was breath-taking. I often used the word breath-taking, but I only appreciated the true meaning of it when I looked at Mt Kili for the first time.

No photo can do it justice.

*Photo from SummitLeaders