University of Calgary

Volunteering abroad clarifies an alumna's future

Submitted by tdroden on Sat, 01/15/2011 - 14:00.

Volunteering abroad clarifies an alumna's future

Arsheen Dhalla's experiences nursing in Africa 
will stay with her forever
By Arsheen Dhalla

Arsheen Dhalla's time volunteering in Tanzania has inspired her to continue with support initiatives abroad. (Photo by Riley Brandt)Arsheen Dhalla's time volunteering in Tanzania has inspired her to continue with support initiatives abroad. (Photo by Riley Brandt)

After being inspired to volunteer abroad by fellow nurses, students and professors, Arsheen Dhalla, BN'10, spent a month in Zanzibar, Tanzania, working in a local hospital and teaching children math and English at an orphanage. The experience, she says, was emotionally moving and further solidified her plans to support health initiatives abroad.

There are many places around the world in need of medical volunteers, which made the decision of where to travel difficult. Ultimately, I chose Tanzania because I felt drawn to my roots and wanted to go back to my family origins, spending time identifying and tracking important cultural values.

I stayed in Stone Town, a historic area in the heart of the island of Zanzibar and a UNESCO site. An organization that arranges volunteer and internship placements matched me with a host family and arranged for my placement at Mnazi Mmoja Hospital and an orphanage.

I lived with a woman and three of her nephews who taught me a lot about their way of life. They allowed me to participate in different cultural practices, inviting me to attend family birthdays and weddings, and giving me the chance to make their home, my home.

In the mornings, my host family insisted that we spend some time sitting on the balcony before we started our day. Even though you have a long day ahead of you, it is important to get some air before you go to work.

At the hospital, I volunteered in labour and delivery, postpartum and family planning. I supported women during their entire birth experience which included health assessments, pre- and postnatal care, family planning and sexual health education.

As I was leaving the labour waiting room one day to return home, I heard a woman calling for help. I followed her voice and found her in the washroom. She had delivered right there and then on the floor. I immediately called a nurse, handed her the baby and asked her to stay with them as I went to grab sterile equipment to complete the delivery.

Before I left that day, I assisted with several other births and delivered a healthy baby boy on my own. I went home and sat on the balcony for some time after that experience and understood the value in doing so. The next day I returned, knowing that I would be delivering babies on my own and I was just fine with that.

Simple things like blood pressure monitors, fetal heart rate monitors and ultrasound machines that we have here are at best a luxury there. Women have to bring their own packs of sterile gloves for physicians and nurses to use, their own food, drinking water and several kangas (traditional scarves brought in to wrap the newborn and clean the mother).

The physicians and nurses are very well-educated, team-oriented and experienced. Despite the lack of medical supplies, most patients return home prepared to care for themselves and the new addition to their family.

I know I will definitely go back and continue with support services in Africa. Nursing can take you to anywhere you want to be and I am so fortunate to have worked with several individuals including faculty, family and friends to get to where I am today. Being an RN empowers me to make a difference in the world.