It is an assumption here made by many that, because I am white/foreign, I have a lot of money. It's not really a wrong assumption. Compared to an average Arusha citizen, I am absolutely rolling in it, but it's an assumption I'm not really comfortable with.
Of course, I had always intended to be quite generous here with donations as it seems to be the general way in which we think we can make a difference. However, I have had some very different experiences here with 'giving' over the past few weeks.
When giving little toys for the kids on the ward, money for the School of St Jude or food supplies for the orphanage, everyone seemed genuinely thankful and grateful. When we 'give' at home, it is often to a cause or organisation that, when I think about it, is actually quite faceless. This was a very different kind of giving. Much more personal. I went along to see the nuns at the hospital who give food and clothing to all those patients without family, and donated a bag of hand-knitted baby clothes for the orphans that come through. It was strange but much more satisfying than any donations I have ever made in the past.
But I think that is probably where I have a little problem. I realised I actually have quite a selfish attitude to giving... I do it because it makes me feel good. Not necessarily because it benefits the other person. That's a little bit wrong isn't it? I realised this when people started asking me for stuff. I had always intended on leaving all my hospital things behind for staff but now that they had asked, I found myself not wanting to give because I didn't feel good about it anymore. Why does it matter to me so much that they have asked for things? It doesn't mean they need them any more or less than before. It just means that I don't feel as good about giving them. Hmm.
I had thought I would make a bit of a difference by being here. A small difference maybe, but definitely an impact of some sort. But lately I had been thinking that any difference I could make here would be temporary at best. But then I met Baraka, a junior doctor here. I was with him on casualty a few weeks ago. He is one of the nicest doctors I have met here and he genuinely has a thirst for knowledge and a passion for medicine. He would often say to me 'I have so much still to learn' and would always be interested to hear my opinions and be open to discussion when treating patients. In casualty he would often ask me to examine the patients' chests as he had no stethoscope (there have been big problems with interns getting paid here - money is quite an issue). One of the other Australian students had brought over some equipment to donate and we managed to get him a stethoscope so he could finally listen to a chest himself. It was bright pink but he loved it.
Later Baracka broke his glasses. He had no money to replace them so he just lived on paracetamol for a few weeks for the headaches. He never once asked for anything from me. He just carried on.
Later Baracka broke his glasses. He had no money to replace them so he just lived on paracetamol for a few weeks for the headaches. He never once asked for anything from me. He just carried on. I saw him again on obstetrics and gynaecology - he was on ward round in a hurry. He stopped to say hi but he was in a bit of a fluster. When I asked him how he was going, he again said to me 'I still have so much to learn here. They are about to operate on an ectopic pregnancy and I really want to go see it but I have no clothes. You have to buy your own clothes here' (he was referring to scrubs worn in theatre). And then he was off again.
When I was finished my shift, I went and took the scrubs I was wearing off and took them to him. He couldn't quite understand what I was doing. In saying those things to me earlier he hadn't intended to ask for anything at all but that is exactly why I really wanted to give them to him.
I really don't think I can make much of a difference here... but I think Baracka can. I hope in a small way I have empowered him to go on and learn and be a truly great doctor. I think that is what is needed here in the hospitals most of all - great people. They have equipment and supplies, often there is just a lack of willingness to use them properly or appropriately. I hope he stays as keen as he is now. I really do admire him.
This blog was written by Ashlie Church, Australian medical student in Arusha. To read Ashlie's full blog, click on the link.