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Lise swaps technology for back to basics nursing in Tanzania

By Karen Keast | Last Updated: 19-11-2013

Brisbane nurse Lise Wills volunteered with Projects Abroad.

Tanzania opened its heart to Brisbane nurse Lise Wills.

“It gives me goose bumps and brings tears to my eyes just thinking about their smiling faces and their warm embraces,” she said.

The 51-year-old registered nurse spent two-months volunteering in Arusha with Projects Abroad earlier this year.

For Lise, who has spent nine years volunteering as a telephone crisis counsellor for Life Line, it was her first time volunteering overseas, fulfilling her life-long dream to volunteer in Africa and to give to those in need.

“There are so many aspects of my time volunteering in Arusha that I loved,” she said.

“Actually, I really found it hard leaving and had it not been for my family and dog being so desperate

for my return I would have extended my stay.

“It was not only the nursing that was rewarding, it was submerging myself in their way of life…living with a Tanzanian family, their culture, and their language.”

Lise, who works part-time as a Community Health Interface Program (CHIP) nurse at a large public hospital, is also studying a nurse immuniser course at university and works as a school nurse in a 1500-student boys’ school, decided to volunteer not only for herself but also for her mum.

“My mother too had always wanted to be a nursing volunteer but married very young, had a family and retired from nursing,” she said.

“I know it is something she really wishes she had done, so my volunteering stint was for her too.”

Lise swapped the modern technology of a Queensland hospital for the bare basics at the small Ngarenaro Health Clinic, in the heart of Arusha.

The clinic, which mainly provides care to women and children, has no operating facilities but is home to a 22-bed maternity ward, maternal and child welfare clinic, family planning clinic, immunisation clinic, antenatal clinic, HIV/AIDS clinic and a doctor’s clinic, along with an old, donated ambulance.

Lise said the experience was professionally fulfilling, making her more aware of how nursing in Australia was reliant on technology and resources.

“Whereas somewhere like Tanzania nursing is all about doing what you can and the best you can under the circumstances with the limited resources, no resources and less than satisfactory conditions,” she said.

“It was wonderful to unleash and rely on basic nursing skills and communication. It was also very rewarding to learn their ways; often our ways just don’t suit the environment.”

When Lise first arrived in Arusha and discovered the “black with grime” pillows without pillow cases and badly stained sheets, she emailed friends back home, launching a Purchase a Pillow and Pillowcase (Triple P) fundraiser and was amazed when her friends raised $3,700.

The funds bought more than 22 new pillows, 44 pillow cases and 30 sheets, also stretching to purchasing or mending a range of items, including two manual suction machines, an oxygenation machine, oxygen cylinder with carriage, cabinet work and shelving in the delivery room, two new timber table tops for a resuscitation trolley and sterilising work table, solar lamps and charger, and 20 stainless steel surgical instruments.

“People are so keen to donate to these causes when they know their money is being used for its intended purpose,” Lise said.

“Unfortunately you can’t just send money to these hospitals as you would never know if it would be used for its intended purpose.

“If you post anything to Tanzania in the way of medical supplies, they are so heavily taxed on arrival - the hospital would be unable to afford these taxes.

“It was so rewarding and fulfilling to be able to present the clinic with the equipment and supplies, they were truly so appreciative and excited.”

In her Tanzanian adventure, Lise made countless friends among the staff and the community and she also found a life-long friend in a volunteering German midwife named Constanze.

“There were many tears and exchanging of gifts on our last day; the memory will stay with me forever,” she said.

“Kwaheri nitakuja tena – goodbye I will come back.”

Want to volunteer with Projects Abroad? Here are Lise’s tips:

“For anyone thinking of going to a third world country such as Tanzania - remember don’t go with an attitude that you can change everything and that your way is better and the only way. Their ways are sometimes really the only way under their circumstances and conditions. Earn their respect, make an effort to learn their names and some basic language - they just love it and they will go all out in welcoming you. Be aware, because of the language barrier you need to show initiative when you are at work – don’t wait to be told or shown, ask and offer to help. You will be rewarded with their warm and friendly ways and they will open their hearts to you.”

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