Volunteer Ruth Curran reflects on sharing her experiences as a health care professional volunteering in Africa after an earlier program in St. Lucia, West Indies. Excerpted here from her blog, she expresses how difficult it can be to do justice to the depth of those experiences. Read her own blog post here.
Imagine Volunteering in Africa!
I’m hesitant because some people may be uncomfortable with some of my experiences, and in disbelief about others. When you ask me about Tanzania, maybe I will tell you about the day I spent in the kitchen of a daycare center / orphanage with two women who have never been outside Tanzania and spoke marginal English. We cooked porridge, ugali, beans, and greens, shared stories about our lives, our families, and our dreams… and fed babies.
I guess it’s possible that I will tell you about the young medical student on my team who — wearing rain boots, a plastic apron, and gloves that she was not entirely certain were sterile — delivered her first baby. I may not tell you this story not because it wasn’t oh so special, but because, really, there are not words to express the look of sheer joy and radiance on her face when she walked in the door and told me about it. That is a moment that I don’t ever want to diminish.
“I bet, however, that you will write that all that off as idealism or the romance of the moment in hindsight or the view from the other side of my rose colored glasses or the perspective from my glass overflowing take on life. I know that. I appreciate that. I respect that position.”
It’s quite possible that I might not tell you the story about giving a young woman and her less-than-24-hour-old baby (and their entourage) a ride home. She had just given birth in the so much less than fully equipped clinic in the village we were visiting. The mom and baby were going to have to either walk to the next village or ride on the back of a motor cycle. We found out the baby did not yet have a name so they asked my colleague (and now friend) and me to give her a name. I may not tell you that story because even I have hard time believing that that actually happened, and now, more than a week later, can’t express just how powerful it was to watch that new mom take out the baby’s record, ask to borrow a pen, and carefully write “Maya” on the top of the page.
“These people allowed me to think in ways that I did not even know I could. I came out not just changed by the experience this time but a better thinker – a multidimensional thinker – because of these three-and-a-half weeks.”
Ruth is an author, writer, and speaker who first came in contact with Michele Gran, Global Volunteers’ co-founder and Vice President, when she was doing research for a book about brain health and the brain benefits of travel and living a purposeful life. Ruth holds a Master of Science degree and has more than 28 years of experience as a business development executive, strategist, and organizational behaviorist. After learning about Global Volunteers through her research, she served as a volunteer in the Caribbean (St. Lucia) in 2015. She joined the Reaching Children’s Potential Advisory Committee that same year. Since then, Ruth has served as a volunteer in Africa (Tanzania) on two service programs and is registered for a third in Tanzania in July 2018. During that time, she was recruited for the Board of Directors. In 2017, Ruth joined the Global Volunteers staff as Director of Partnerships and Collaborations, managing our educational and institutional partnerships.
Her blog post explores her day-to-day experiences in Ipalamwa, Tanzania as a volunteer in Africa and how she finds it so difficult to capture the feelings and wonderment she experienced while there.
“I don’t believe I even know how to tell you about how a magnificent 13-year-old young woman who, without even realizing, gracefully shined a light in the darkness and changed the tone – created a moment of safety and sanity in a world that held neither – for another young girl whose life, experience, and existence held so little hope.”