This August, I went to Tanzania to work with the Olive Branch for Children, which is set in the town of Mbeya. Deb is Canadian, and she came over to Tanzania over 12 years ago and just never went home. She runs the entire organisation with her husband Putiyei who is from the Maasai tribe. When we arrived to Zion Home, which is the Olive Branch for Children’s main project and was our home away from home for the four weeks, we were exhausted. Deb however is the most energetic and organised person I have ever met (if you do her exercise class, be prepared for some aching muscles the next day) and right away we were given our schedules for the month.
Deb tries to suit the people to the projects, so as I am studying biomedical science I was doing a deworming and hygiene campaign. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, as you are given a lot of responsibility. Help is always there when you ask for it though and you get into the swing of things after a few days.
I was teamed up with one of the home-based care full time employees of the Olive Branch, who also helps with translating. It was just the two of us working together a lot of the time, so we really became good friends. The national language of Tanzania is Swahili (which is also the language all the names from the Lion King are in by the way), but most tribes also have their own language.
During the week, we travelled around from village to village working and then at the weekends we’d go back to Zion Home. You could be staying in a number of different places during the week with people Deb knows and trusts. The main mode of transportation is motorbike, and motorbikes combined with dusty roads lead to a lot of dirt on your face.
The hours of work can be long, but it is so rewarding. Hygiene education would be non-existent in the remoter villages, leading to a lot of illness. Health facilities can be too far too reach sometimes, so avoiding illness and distributing medicine is really needed. The Olive Branch also runs mobile health clinics which we helped with, visiting each of the remote villages in the area once a month and doing childhood vaccinations, condom distribution, and HIV testing and medications.
We had weekends off so you can do a lot of fun activities. One weekend we went to a safari in Ruaha, which is the biggest park in East Africa. It was amazing, and you could sometimes see the animals right up close. Another weekend Deb rented a bus and we went with all of the older kids to Lake Matema, which has one of the nicest beaches I have ever seen and absolutely beautiful scenery, as it’s surrounded by mountains.
Zion Home is absolutely amazing. There’s about 40 children, and a ridiculous amount of dogs, so the house is never quiet. It’s so full of energy and a dancing or singing session could break out at any moment. It was so difficult to leave, and if I hadn’t have to be back for college I’m sure I would have tried to change my flights to stay longer!
by Rachel Kelly