I'm from Arcade, NY and I am a biomedical engineering major here at Tulane. The summer of my freshman year I was able to go to the rural village of Losho, Kenya for a month with a non-profit called the Maasai American Organization (or MAO). There I worked with undergrads, graduates of public health as well as doctors in the New Orleans area to teach English and health education as well as help out at the local clinic my group had built in years past. My experiences there motivated and helped me get in to Engineering World Health's summer program. It was in fact the same program Bob Lathrop had participated in last year, and we were even stationed at the same hospital, Mt. Meru Regional Hospital. I found out about both opportunities through e-mails sent out at Tulane (The Newcomb News and a department wide info-session announcement). The program fees and airplane ticket costs were really overwhelming to acknowledge and fundraise for at first, but luckily Tulane, with the Jean Danielson Memorial Scholarship as well as the Dean's Grant, helped make it possible to go on this once in a lifetime trip!
So my time this year in Tanzania was absolutely amazing. I was able to apply a lot of the skills I've learned in class right out in the hospital setting. While in Tanzania, I had one month of Swahili classes as well as technical training and labs every day of the week until we were ready to head out to our prospective hospitals the second month. Before this summer, I had taken circuits as well as an electronics class which really helped me have a foundation when I was learning to fix power supplies (one of the most common fixes) at the hospital. Also, just the general mindset of problem solving that I've had practice with in all of my classes so far really helped in situations where I was unsure of the solution. My secondary project, building the bili lights, was a really rewarding project that I'm really glad I was able to do the last week at my hospital. After observing for the first couple weeks that the nurses really needed more phototherapy lights, my partner and I brainstormed and set out to build them. The hospital staff had been rotating babies (the most I saw was 4 at a time) to be able to share the light, which is really ineffective. In any developed nation like the US, a baby will remain under the lights nonstop until the bilirubin levels are under control. This is a serious problem because too high of concentrations can cause brain damage to the newborns. When we delivered the final design, it was really heartwarming how appreciative the staff were. Our design fit perfectly in each of the cribs so that 3 babies could be under them at one time and the lights can be moved from crib to crib. The hospital is now capable of having 4 newborns under the bili lights at a time.
The experience was really remarkable and I am so thankful to have been given the chance to not only return to Africa, but also be able to work in a hospital setting in a country so different from my own. The lack of resources and well trained staff was a big eye opener and really showed me how much I take for granted in the U.S. One thing I really learned is how important it is to fully immerse yourself in the culture and environment you're working in. Learning the basics of Swahili this summer made a huge impact on how the locals and hospital staff viewed me as a person and coworker. The fact that I was trying to communicate in their own language not only gave a smile every time, but they also recognized I was there to help, not just the typical tourist they come across so often. I'm not sure what exactly I'll do after I've finished my undergraduate degree, but I know it will be something to focus on health in developing countries.Spending another summer in East Africa only solidified the fact that I want to continue working and helping in areas of great need. I am hoping to return to Tanzania this summer with a project of my own!
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