My mum’s a nurse and I’ve got cousins who are midwives. I went to my first birth when I was 12, and I grew up on a farm littering lambs, so birth has always been part of my life. I’ve now been a midwife for five years. And I had always wanted to go to Africa, so I researched opportunities like this when I graduated as a midwife and Work the World popped up. It looked amazing, so I thought I need to do this.
When I was finally able to book it was such an easy process. The site was amazing and there was so much information on there. It was just so easy.
I was nervous when it came time to travel because Tanzania is quite a long flight from Australia. But I was only really nervous about the flight itself and the stopover I had to do.
When it came to the placement and the experience overseas, I was more excited than anything. When I got there one of the Work the World staff was there to meet me and they were so welcoming. It was so nice because as soon as I saw her I thought, “Cool, I’m in the right place.”
When I first got to the hospital it was very obviously different from what things were like back home. There were lots of patients and all the beds were lined up in rows with no curtains, and a noticeable lack of sterilisation of equipment. But that’s what I was going there to see - all these differences.
The midwife who was with me on the first day and showed me around, was great. She was so welcoming, and as soon as she heard that I was a registered midwife (most of the other people on placement were students) they realised I had a bigger scope of practice so let me get more involved more quickly than I think I otherwise would have.
I tried to get to placement every morning at 7am, in time for handover. That let me hear who was on the birth suite and what had been going on. Most days I was delivering one to two babies. I showed I was capable over the first few days and that meant the staff really trusted in my skills and experience.
The local midwives were so good, and they taught me lots of different things. Some things were done quite differently in Tanzania compared to how we do them back home. In Australia we break a woman’s water with a little hook where in Dar es Salaam they did it with a pair of scissors.
Another difference was that every woman got a catheter. I think the reason was that they didn’t want labouring mothers getting up to go to the bathroom. The suturing material was very different as well – it was like wire rather than the more silky material we have back home.
There were plenty of similarities too. They had sterile gloves, cord clamps, and they gave vitamin K to babies. They had birthing packs for when women were pushing, and even administered oxytocin to help women deliver the placenta.
I remember one particular woman who was being quite vocal during labour. Culturally, women are expected to just deal with the pain and keep quiet, but this one woman wasn’t able to. The local midwives weren’t offering any emotional support here, and this is the norm in Tanzania and not something to be judged. But I decided to offer her some support as she seemed to be having a particularly hard time of it.
It was just little things like holding her hand as she went through contractions. It was a simple thing and she was so appreciative.
Outside of placement
There were around 30 people living in the Work the World house at the same time as me. It was such an awesome experience. I hadn’t realised just how social the trip would be outside of placement.
I knew it would be a brilliant experience, but I thought it would be more like, go to placement, come home, go to placement, come home. But it was so much fun, and if I’d have known just how much fun it was going to be I’d have planned for a longer trip. I didn’t want to leave.
We went to different bars in the evenings, had Swahili lessons together in the house, and had BBQ nights every Thursday.
At the weekends we travelled together as a group. We went on safari, visited some beautiful beaches, and travelled over to Zanzibar.
Since I’ve been back home I’ve been raving about it to friends, and one of them has already booked on. I just told her how well organised everything was and that there was always someone around to ask questions if I needed to. Even before I travelled, all I had to do was send an email and I’d get a reply really quickly. There was so much support.
Being able to log into MyTrip was great as well. It had all the information I needed and I felt so organised and prepared by the time the trip rolled around. Just go for it.