What Can I Expect as a Volunteer

Before You Go

  • Once you make the decision to go, you can expect the usual annoyance while collecting your credentialing documentation. This is usually not a big deal but it is a bit of a pain.  
  • Don’t forget your anti-malarial pills and any other medications that you require. Although these are available at the pharmacies around the hospital, it is more reliable to bring your entire requirement.
  • Don’t forget to confirm your reservation at the Kalenga House and your airport pickup with Ramadhan (see orientation letter)
  • If it’s your first visit, you can expect a little anxiety facing the unknown. We’re here to help. If you have any questions or just want to talk things over, contact our executive director, Ashley Porter, and she will ask an experienced volunteer, usually an Alliance Board Member, to contact you and answer any and all questions
  • Most volunteers purchase evacuation insurance, in case of a medical emergency. This can be purchased from many online insurance companies or AAA. No one has had to use it but its inexpensive and nice to have.
  • We usually bring around $2,000.00 in brand new $100.00 bills. This will buy your visa at the airport if you didn’t purchase one in the U.S. and is also useful for paying your bill at the Kalenga House (they don’t take credit cards).
  • Let your credit card and Debit Card companies know you’ll be in Tanzania. Otherwise, they may stop payment on these cards and you’ll be unable to get money out of the ATM’s.

En Route

  • If you want to arrive in Dar Es Salaam feeling like a wrung out dish towel, go straight through from the US to Tanzania. Otherwise, stop in Europe, Istanbul or Dubai for a couple of days, enjoy the sites and your life. Try to arrive in Dar on a Friday or Saturday so you can sleep it off over the weekend and start fresh on Monday.
  • If you are arriving at night, bring a small amount of food as a snack at night and for breakfast.  You can pick up supplies in the morning. You won’t be able to buy food after about 20:00.

On Arrival

  • There are detailed instructions in the Orientation letter about getting organized once you arrive at the Kalenga House.
  • Maryam, the Kalenga House housekeeper, will give you the Alliance phone and the Alliance Post exposure Prophylaxsis Kit (in the event of a parenteral body fluid exposure). The kit contains detailed instructions as to what to do.
  • The morning Department meeting starts at 07:30 am and Dr. Mwanga or one of his associates will meet you to take you to the meeting if you contact Dr. Mwanga by telephone after arrival (see Orientation Letter). Otherwise, just follow the map and the instructions in the Orientation Letter.
  • You will feel unsettled for about 5-6 days. When you first arrive, you will feel slightly ill because of jet lag. This is normal. 
  • Do not under any circumstances eat uncooked vegetables or drink tap water—do not brush your teeth with tap water.  There is plenty of bottled water at the Kalenga House. If you do, YOU WILL BE SORRY!
  • It will take a couple of days for you to get to know your colleagues and vice versa. Once they see what you can do, they will be seeking your advice several times a day.

While You are There

  • Unfortunately you will see a lot of preventable death and disability. This can lead to emotional distress. It is one thing to read about it in a letter, it is quite another to see it happening right in front of your eyes. Remember that you are there to teach and that it will take decades to achieve our goal. The pre and post operative care is minimal and we don’t have control over any of the variables. If you concentrate on analysis of problems and in particular operative technique and anatomic dissection, you will accomplish a lot. Flexibility is the key. If you are the type of person that has to have every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed, this may not be the experience for you because that is not the way care is delivered here.
  • The services are not organized like American services. The interns do not really know the patients, the recorded vital signs are unreliable and when you ask for a piece of equipment or a drug you will invariably be told initially that it does not exist-but it does. Persistence, with a smile on your face, usually solves the problem. This is a good lesson for your Tanzanian colleagues because until recently, when they were told no, they just accepted it. But things are starting to change!
  • A good strategy is to go to the OR every morning. You will find yourself sitting around for a couple of hours as cases often start late or are cancelled. But you will also be asked to supervise very challenging cases either when your Tanzanian colleagues call for help intra-operatively or just before they start. After a while, they will consult you preoperatively (hopefully) for the really big cases.
  • Many of the surgeons work on the weekends so try to be flexible. You can do a lot of teaching on Saturdays and Sundays in the OR (which are much less busy). They often schedule cases on the weekend as access to the OR is limited during the week.
  • If you like to cook, there is a reasonable kitchen in the Kalenga House. If you don’t like to cook, it’s possible to eat out most nights.  Maryam or other guests at the Kalenga House can help you with restaurant selection. 
  • It is very hot and humid. The dress is “smart casual”. Some of our Tanzanian colleagues wear coats and ties but most do not. A bandana to wipe off the sweat is helpful as is an umbrella during the rainy season.
  • The Internet in the Kalenga House has improved but is not perfect. Skype will keep you in contact with your family at home and keep your spirits up. I call my wife twice a day via Skype and if you’re lucky, Facetime will work most of the time.
  • It is amazing how quickly the time will pass. You just have to tough out the first few days. If you elect to become a yearly volunteer, you will be greeted on subsequent visits like a long lost friend and will be immediately incorporated into the social and professional milieu.
  • Read the Orientation Letter carefully, it has detailed information which will help you get adjusted.  Maryam, the housekeeper can help you with taxis and translation. After a short while, you’ll become an experienced “East Africa Hand”. Best of luck and enjoy your rotation.