After over a year of not having on-the-ground support from volunteers, the RCP staff and families in the Ukwega Ward in Tanzania were thrilled to welcome back the first team of volunteers. Global Volunteers Co-founder Michele Gran is leading this team of volunteers, who arrived in Ipalamwa on Saturday, July 31 for three weeks of service. Having served in Tanzania in November 2018, volunteer Leslie Apony says she is “excited to be part of the team to reopen the volunteer program”. In this journal entry from the first full day of service on Monday, Leslie shares what it feels like to be serving in Tanzania now.
By Leslie Apony
It is great to be back in Ipalamwa, Tanzania. This is my second Global Volunteer trip to the region, with my first trip back in November of 2018. I am excited to be part of the team to reopen the volunteer program after the travel restrictions for the past one and half years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is great to be on the ground and see the progress made in the region over the past two and half years since I was here and see many of the staff that I met back in 2018 are still here and many people have been promoted or taken on expanded roles. In my last trip my team focused on getting the health center geared up to be open. It is great to see the health center, now a general clinic, fully operational and being well used by the community. So far, during the past week, three mothers successfully delivered and today I was part of the team to bring an expecting mother to the RCP guest house awaiting her delivery. Back in 2018 mothers needed to travel two hours to Iringa to a hospital mostly on a bumpy dirt road or deliver at home. I am truly seeing the impact this program is making in the region. Looking forward to the next two weeks of volunteering.
“I am truly seeing the impact this program is making in the region.”– Leslie Apony, two-time volunteer to Tanzania
A little about our team – Michele Gran of Global Volunteers is our Team Leader and we have six additional members, all from the United States, on the team, including two new Global Volunteer staff, Maya and Emily; three volunteers: Shirley, Courtney, and myself; and two videographers, Julie and Ed, recording for a documentary about the RCP program. Below is the daily journal from our team’s first full day volunteering on Monday, August 2.
The team had a great day, but a full exhausting day. Many of the team awoke early to the sounds of the RCP roosters welcoming the morning and morning chants and songs from the local secondary students in the dorms adjacent to the RCP center. It was the first full day for the team with family home visits, workshops, computer training for the RCP staff, work at the clinic, planning for building chicken coops and stoves, and filming for the documentary. In the past few days, three mothers birthed their babies (two girls and one boy) at the clinic. Today was the day that the mothers and children went home. There were several activities that the team were included in with the mothers that were returning home.
There were a few challenges the team faced during the day, with coordinating transportation for the team due to the van being used in the morning to transport new mothers home from the clinic, a technical issue with the projector, and timing of home visits around family and staff’s schedules. Some of the volunteer assignments were delayed or shifted and the team needed to “go with the flow” over the course of the day as the plan remained fluid. During the day the team and staff did a great job with making adjustments.
A challenge was met during the afternoon workshop; one of the mothers passed out outside during the break. Doctor Benjamin was quickly brought in from the clinic to attend to the mother. A group of men quickly appeared to help carry the mother to the clinic for evaluation. Two of the other mothers attended to the mother’s child during the remaining workshop. A family member came after the workshop to look over the young child while the mother recovered in the clinic. This was a true display of community and resourcefulness.
Despite the lack availability of a projector, Michele, Regina, Fatima, and I held two successful workshops. The team came up with a creative solution for displaying the presentation on multiple computers and having the attendees gather around the computer. The staff and volunteers then helped with advancing the slides.
The morning workshop focused on mental health and alcohol use and was attended by nine RCP fathers. The session was engaging and very interactive. One of the attendees shared about a personal experience with his wife, who has depression and has considered suicide. There is planning to have them potentially meet with the doctor from Iringa Hospital that Michele, Regina, and myself met with in Iringa before the program started and who is planning to visit the village next week.
The afternoon workshop had 12 women from a surrounding village attend. Michele discussed her personal experience with mental illness and with her family and why she felt it was important to have these workshops. I also discussed my personal experience with pregnancy, childbirth, and post-partum depression. This was an emotional experience for myself as I recounted my experience. Regina reported that the mothers were very appreciative of Michele’s and my willingness to discuss their personal experiences. This is not common practice in the village or in Tanzania. They thought the workshop was well done and helpful. This was a great launch to this new RCP workshop series offering.
“I also discussed my personal experience with pregnancy, childbirth, and post-partum depression. This was an emotional experience for myself as I recounted my experience. Regina reported that the mothers were very appreciative of Michele’s and my willingness to discuss their personal experiences. This is not common practice in the village or in Tanzania. They thought the workshop was well done and helpful. This was a great launch to this new RCP workshop series offering.”– Leslie Apony, Tanzania volunteer
Julie discussed a visit with Rose, a 32-year mother with three children. There are some challenges when conducting interviews with a translator as it is hard to get a natural flow going. Also, before the camera was running, the mother was energetic, but during the interview she was very quiet. She started to perk up once she was naturally walking around the house and interacting with her husband and child. Julie praised Given, one of the RCP Caregivers, to be the “wings that are having us fly”. Ed also commented on Given’s keeping them on schedule and pushing them out after lunch so they can keep their schedule.
In the Ipalamwa General Clinic, Shirley reported that Anna and she met with the new moms and took their babies’ pictures before they left the clinic. These pictures will be part of the RCP program records.
Given, Julie, and Ed did a home visit with Tausiana, one of the mothers that brought her baby, Kristina, home yesterday. It was great for Julie and Ed to see Given in action with the new mom and family. Given reviewed breastfeeding and proper handwashing with the mom. Given reminded the father that Tausiana will need to get some rest over the next few days. Most of this was recorded by Julie and Ed for the documentary. Julie was impressed in the way Given interacted with the new mom and the family.
RCP caregivers Given and Fatima both reported on successful home visits with their families. Fatima met with one of the returning mothers with her new baby to review breastfeeding and ensure that all the mothers’ concerns and questions were addressed. Both caregivers reported that the families were happy that the volunteers were back. There was excitement from the families and the community about the return of the volunteers.
Emily, Maya, Courtney, RCP staff members, and I made a visit in the morning to Rose’s home to see one of the first RCP-sponsored stoves. I took pictures so the team can review later. The team had a discussion on the process of installing the stove. The plan is for the team to start the construction of the first stove on Thursday. They believe it will take two days for three to four people to complete. Later in the day Julie and Ed made a visit to Rose’s house and witnessed that the new stove still is filling the room with smoke and not venting properly. The team has put this as an action item to investigate this further and work on correcting the issue, before another stove is built in a family’s home, to ensure that the design does not need some adjustment.
Emily, Maya, Courtney, and RCP staff spent time with the chicken coops developing a plan for the installation on Tuesday. The plan is for the team to start the first chicken coop on Tuesday, and they are estimating it will take three days to complete one.
In the afternoon, Emily, Maya, and Courtney all worked in the clinic — Emily with measurements, Maya with the intake of patients, and Courtney shadowing Dr. Silas. Courtney was impressed with Dr. Silas’ caring nature and the way he treated all the patients. He even took time to spend with an elderly patient in the clinic for diabetes and he spent extra time to tuck her in.
I met with caregivers to conduct Microsoft training and discuss our action plan for the next two weeks. Our goal is to conduct trainings for the caregivers to enable the team to be more productive with Microsoft applications, allowing them to spend less time on administration and more time with families.
It was a great first day and I personally am looking forward to the next two weeks and being able to contribute in the community through home visits with caregivers, assisting in presenting and staffing workshops focused on mental health, building fuel-efficient stoves in RCP families’ homes, planting and installing EarthBoxes, working on technology-focused projects with the staff, and working with the videographers on the filming the documentary.
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