I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a month. Seriously. I went to Zanzibar in mid-July, why am I just getting around to this? Well, school just started back up after the last long weekend of Summer, and I’m already dreading it. The work is piling and stress levels are rising.
On my first day of class, bright and early this past Tuesday morning at 8:30, we had to do the usual introductions for our problem-based learning nursing class. One thing we had to include in our introduction was one of our goals after nursing school. I mentioned how I went to Zanzibar this summer and how I would like to continue travel nursing in the future. And that short anecdote brought back so many memories.
My parents were both born and raised in Tanzania; my mom actually was born in Zanzibar. I, however, had never visited East Africa, nor had any intention to. I’m not quite sure why, but I think I was convinced that I would definitely be 1) bored to death and 2) contract malaria. Spoiler alert: neither were true. When my dad first told me that Global Kindness Foundation (GKF), a Vancouver-based organization that plans dental and optical missions in impoverished regions around the world, were hosting their next trip to Zanzibar in July, I wasn’t sure what to think. I’ve obviously heard amazing things about Zanzibar: how beautiful of an island it is, how rich the culture is, etc. When we decided to go, I was surely excited, but also a bit nervous about the experience.
Now, I know there’s a lot to say about ‘voluntourism’. The concept of people traveling to another place to do volunteer work in that area. It can be considered controversial as the tourism and money-making aspect is exploited. However, the trips organized by GKF are carefully planned and executed. The people we helped were those who have had minimal to no previous exposure to a dentist/optometrist and hence, this was truly beneficial to them.
We set up our week-long camp at Kiponda Secondary School near Stonetown in Zanzibar. We used 4 classrooms in the upstairs and treated almost the entire school, over 200 students. Our group consisted of 7 dentists including oral surgeons as well as a hygienist. As a nursing student, I was involved in direct patient care, especially during the postoperative or recovery period for the patients.
So why am I sharing this? What did I really do? Probably nothing. After our 10 hour days, we would all go back to our nice beachfront hotel (s/o to Tembo Hotel and Apartments), eat a nice dinner, and continue to explore Zanzibar in our free time. We, or let me say I, did not really do anything of greatness or of grand appreciation. Yeah, I took some blood pressures and helped some of the kids who felt dizzy. Whoop-ty-do.
I am sharing this because I was genuinely so impressed by the students I met. They had so many aspirations, such amazing character and manners, and the most patience.
The students that are with me in the picture are who inspired me writing this blogpost. The one left of me wants to study Environmental Science. He was asking me about studying in Canada, university, and how he wants to further his education. He told me he wants to pursue this field to make a difference in the future. Here I am, with high quality education at my immediate and easy disposal, and yet, I am dreading school. Complaints come with every breath I take while on campus. I just want to go back to the time I did not have such worries. I have no motivation to complete assignments or any optimism about any future undertakings in my program. I, privileged with an abundance of opportunity, sit here in my ease and comforts writing about how I dislike school. Yet, another student, who is the same age as me and is also studying, has so much ambition and determination. He does not have nearly as many chances as I am blessed with and he does not let that hinder his drive.
Another beautiful lesson I learned from these students was about patience and good manners. Wow, these kids did not utter even one complaint, not even once did ANY of them get angry about having to wait such a long time for their treatment or for having to stay back after their school session was over. They just waited and were so appreciative of the service they were receiving. Just to give you some context, all the students in the whole school were pre-screened to see what level of treatment they required and their file was marked with a number from 1-5. 1 meant that they needed a cleaning whereas a level 5 meant that they had to get decayed/damaged teeth extracted or get their wisdom teeth removed. Now, if you’ve been to a dentist office for a cleaning, you would know that first, the hygienist does your cleaning, and upon completion, the dentist will come in and check everything out. Then, he/she will let you know if you have any cavities or further work to be done. Well, similarly, upon pre-screening, many kids were just marked as needing cleaning. But, after they had their cleaning done, the dentists would see that in fact these students also had cavities. Hence, they would go straight to getting their cavities filled and other students behind them in the line would have to wait. And I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that these students not once complained, argued, or even questioned when it would be their turn. I know if it was myself in their situation, I would definitely get irritated or wish I had something I could do to distract myself. But no, they just sat there, mingling with each other, and watch the chaos with observing eyes.
This entire experience was humbling more than anything. I learned more from the students than I ever thought I would, simply through their actions and behaviour. We had a language barrier between us, as my Swahili speaking skills aren’t the greatest. But, some things can be expressed without words, some lessons taught without formal interaction, and smiles shared through a universal language.
Beyond the camp, we did have a lot of time to enjoy the beauty of Zanzibar. Through this trip, I made some amazing friends (MISS them), got to see a new place, and learned a lot about where I came from. It’s crazy the sense of identity you get from visiting ‘home’, even if it is so distant from all that you know. I went in with 0 expectations, almost expecting the worst. However, I was greeted with the best, with warmth, kindness, and open arms. I truly discovered home, another home.