For decades, Global Volunteers’ programs around the world have united humanitarians of all backgrounds and ages in service. Often, deep friendships result through the experience of living and working with other volunteers, local people, and Global Volunteers staff. such was the experience of Doctor Benjamin Makafu and RCP Caregiver Elkana Valence in Ipalamwa, Tanzania. Although they both were born and raised in urban Tanzania, it was through their work on the Reaching Children’s Potential (RCP) Program that they met, and were married two years later. Read on to learn about their work, their hopes for its growth, and their life together in the village.
What were your expectations when you started working with the RCP Program? How have you seen it develop?
Benjamin: My expectations were to find a group of people working harmoniously almost “angel like” dedicated to one cause. The RCP Program is doing great and there is still a lot of potential to it. I think mothers could benefit more if we had a professional child nutritionist. I arrived when the RCP Program consisted of three villages and now it consists of five villages. There is a plan to expand to more villages, which is a great way for more moms to benefit from what the program has to offer.
What has been your experience working as an RCP caregiver, Elkana?
Elkana: Working with RCP moms as a caregiver is a good experience because it is field work which connects to me directly, as a woman. Apart from teaching them as a caregiver, I also learn so many things about home life from them. So many mothers are open, charming, and eager to learn. But working with moms’ socialization and learning to interact with everyone in a good way to build good rapport with them are key.
“Apart from teaching them as a caregiver, I also learn so many things about home life from them. So many mothers are open, charming, and eager to learn.”– Elkana Valence, RCP Caregiver
Can you describe an “average day”?
Elkana: I wake up every morning at 7:00 a.m. and the first thing I do is personal and house cleanliness. I drink tea and then leave for home visits around 8:00 or 8:20 a.m. I make sure I visit at least three families before noon. On my way back home, I buy vegetables and fruits if I don’t have any at home. From 12:00 to 1:00 p.m., I eat lunch. Then around 1:00 or 1:20 p.m., I leave to see more moms in the village. Then I close the day at 4:00 p.m. as it is when family time starts. I rest a little for an hour or so then I start to prepare the evening meal. I may receive friends at that time or spend time with my husband. Dinner is usually from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. After that, I rest by calling friends, playing on my phone, or chatting in group chats before sleeping around 9:00 or a little later.
What has it been like living in the village? Do you miss living in the city?
Elkana: I feel okay living in the village because I like to be near nature and it is quiet here. Sometimes I miss living in the city because of the availability of social services. When I need something very important and it’s not available in the village, then it takes a whole trip to Iringa to get it.
When you two met, what attracted you to each other?
Elkana: The first thing that attracted me to my husband was his love and openness. He loves me very much, and he is among the men who knows their responsibilities as a father in the family. Also, he wants me to be happy and enjoy the love he gives me. All in all, he always wants things to be perfect and straight. I would like to thank God for this wonderful gift. I found my soulmate for the rest of my life.
What was your courtship in the village like?
Elkana: We started courting before the clinic opened. Benjamin was coming to the villages with volunteers and we would go on home visits together, even helping with the installation of hand-washing stations and fetching water for home use. At that time, I was working in Mkalanga village and it didn’t have any running water, and it still doesn’t. Then Benjamin and I started to meet up in town on the weekends and eventually we were boyfriend and girlfriend.
When did you introduce each other to your families and how did that go?
Elkana: I was introduced to Benjamin’s relatives in Iringa before I met his parents because they live in Dar es Salaam. Then in December 2018 I met his parents and everything went well. Afterwards in February, I officially introduced him to my parents because they already knew him as my friend.
Are there traditions you followed during your engagement?
Benjamin: In African traditions, a man has to pay a dowry to the family of the bride-to-be. It’s like a thank-you gesture, but a strict tradition before marriage here in Tanzania. So before we got engaged, we started with a dowry acceptance ceremony.
Elkana: Just like Benjamin said, as we are African, we have some traditional instructions to follow when a man wishes to get married. Benjamin and I were in a relationship for a while before deciding to get married. We met in July 2018 and got engaged a year and half later, in December of 2019. We waited about ten months to introduce each other to our families. After that, Benjamin and his parents started the process by sending the mshenga or messenger to my family with a proposal. The mshenga is supposed to be a person from my tribe and religion, but not necessarily a relative. The mshenga‘s job is to introduce Benjamin’s family to mine. He comes with a letter explaining the nature of his visit, and then he is told what the dowry will be. The bride’s family can tell the messenger if they have any requirement for the dowry.
When I assured my family I knew Benjamin well, they accepted the proposal from a representative of Benjamin’s family. My family gave Benjamin’s family some instructions, as in African tradition, and this was completed soon as a symbol of tradition. Benjamin’s family then gave us the date for the dowry, which was December 8, 2019 and we got engaged the same day.
We also have what we call a “send off” party. We scheduled this for May 16, 2020 and the wedding for May 23. Due to COVID, we postponed the send off until August 8 and the wedding to August 22. At the send-off party, there was a special service for the bride-to-be at our church. The service was wonderful. I enjoyed having that service so much because so many people attended. As you know, I am the daughter of a pastor and so many pastors and bishops attended the service. For me, it was a great day. Then, in the afternoon, we had lunch at home before going to the ceremony hall for the party. The groom-to-be shows up at the very end of that party.
How often are you able to visit your families?
Elkana: For Benjamin, it’s hard because his parents live in Dar es Salaam. He visits them once or twice a year. My parents live nearby in Iringa, so I visit them every month.
Do you stay connected with your friends in the city?
Elkana: It’s hard to manage friends in the city because we no longer have time to see each other and sometimes mobile networks fail. For Benjamin, it is even harder because he has fewer weekends. So we mainly visit some parks, museums, read stories, and spend time together.
What have been some of the best moments working in the RCP Program? What have been the most challenging?
Benjamin: My best moments are making friends with volunteers, many of whom who we still chat with occasionally. The most challenging thing is being in a remote village far and the time it takes to get to Iringa. It takes five hours or more for a public bus to get to Iringa and the same time back, hence a two-day weekend is reduced by ten hours of transportation and fatigue.
What are the greatest medical challenges in the villages? Have there been times when you didn’t have the materials or capacity to treat a person’s condition? What did you do to help them?
Benjamin: The greatest medical challenges in the villages are proper medical care and medicines. Some of the villagers are not used to modern medicine and trust traditional medicine, hence they come to the Ipalamwa General Clinic at their worst state after the traditional medicine has failed them. The Ipalamwa General Clinic has a lot of medications that were not available previously in the villages, but still there is a lot that cannot be cured at this level of healthcare. And difficulty in transportation and poverty can be also be a contributing factor.
It happened once when we opened and then we were not fully stocked. And we have to keep in mind that we get all kinds of patients and some cannot be helped here. For example, we get cancer patients, surgical patients, patients that need blood transfusions, dental patients, and adult men and women that need hospitalization. The rule that I have is to help the patient in the best way you can at the moment you receive them, explain the ailment or disease and how serious it is, and tell them what needs to be done and explain why it can’t be done here. Then finally, give them a referral and advice on where to go and how urgent it is to go there and lay out all their options.
“The greatest medical challenges in the villages are proper medical care and medicines. Some of the villagers are not used to modern medicine and trust traditional medicine, hence they come to the Ipalamwa General Clinic at their worst state after the traditional medicine has failed them.”– Dr. Benjamin Makafu, Doctor In-Charge, Ipalamwa General Clinic
What are the most common conditions you treat? What was the advantage of obtaining the “general clinic” designation? What are your hopes for improving the care available at the Ipalamwa General Clinic?
Benjamin: Common conditions are upper respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, hypertension, joint diseases, and skin diseases. The general clinic designation means the clinic has potential to expand its services, and that’s great because there is always room for improvement. My hopes are for the Ipalamwa General Clinic to one day obtain certification for performing Caesarian sections and create wards for people who need hospitalization.
What have been your experiences with the volunteers and your position at the Ipalamwa General Clinic that keeps you in the village?
Benjamin: Most volunteers know what the mission is once they get here, so it’s easy to get along and work together. The volunteers that helped us with unloading the equipment and setting up the clinic were very helpful, especially Dr. Barbara Morris and her husband, Phil. We spent the entire three weeks with them setting up the clinic and I still have contact with them any time I face challenges. It’s not more of a position rather than a working environment that matters. And since I have an in-charge position at the Ipalamwa General Clinic, it becomes my duty to make sure that we have the best working environment at the clinic. I am motivated by the care that I give and the appreciation I get from it. It is really a gratifying emotion to hear someone say, “Doctor, I got well after taking the medication you prescribed me.” There is a human need to feel wanted and valued and appreciated for what you do. My vision for five years from now is to get my master’s degree or be studying for it. And I hope at that time the Ipalamwa General Clinic will be doing even better things.
Elkana, what is it like to work with the mothers enrolled in the program?
Elkana: I love working with the mothers because I especially like their children and mothers are the first teacher in any family. If you want to share anything with children, the first person to help you is the mother, to make the child comfortable with you. Without doing that first, the children will not be able to interact with you because sometimes they are afraid.
What do you enjoy most about working as an RCP Caregiver?
Elkana: For me, the satisfaction in my job is not just a matter of getting a salary – no, not at all! I hope to see changes from this generation. I want to see the fruits of my work. You know, the seed doesn’t grow like a mushroom. It takes time to see the results of something that you imparted to a person. I always wish that in ten years’ time, if God wishes, I will see some of the children from the community elsewhere in life — studying, working, and not remaining at the same level at which their parents live. Whether I am still living here or not, I hope that my effect on the community will be seen. It’s my hope that RCP Program will continue to help moms and later on we will have a good generation that wishes to work hard for a better result in their lives.
Read more about Benjamin, Elkana, and other Tanzanian staff in these stories: