Kate is a wonderful friend of mine and a recently married OH & S Manager. Together with her anaesthetist husband Scott, they have just spent two weeks volunteering in Tanzania.
Scott and Kate
You have just got back from volunteering in Tanzania. Tell us a bit about the charity that you went to work for?
Rafiki Surgical Missions was established in 2004 and is a non-profit charity that sends teams of qualified surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and allied therapists to Tanzania to provide free surgical treatment and medical training. The organisation raises funds to support professional surgical teams who travel to Tanzania from Australia. The surgical missions have changed the lives of more than 700 Tanzanians with conditions such as cleft lip, cleft palates and burns contractures. The operations undertaken have not just helped the patients by alleviating the pain and suffering, but they have helped them become accepted members of their community.
What was the experience like for you?
The poverty was very confronting. These people have literally nothing and face the constant challenge of infectious diseases, malnutrition and the lack of fundamental needs such as electricity and drinking water. At the clinic on the first day we had over 70 people waiting for us on the off-chance we may be able to help them – severe burns, cleft-lips and palates; and facial tumours. No-one complained, no-one was rude they just all patiently waited their turns to be seen. It was very humbling. The worst thing was the people we were not able to help. Some of them had travelled for over a week to get there but were inoperable for different reasons, it was very hard and frustrating.
The women are beautiful – they are very proud and carry themselves with confidence. No make-up, often no shoes, wearing the same clothes for the whole two weeks we were there, however they all look immaculate and have a gentle grace. I learnt a lot from them – I need to get over myself!
How can us everyday people in Australia help the people in Tanzania?
That is a very big question, and given that I was only there two weeks it is a bit hard to answer. One thing that stuck out for me is that 40% of people don’t have electricity, as a result there are a lot of horrific kerosene burns. Charles was a 12 year old boy we looked after who was burnt in a house fire 6 weeks ago, he lost his mum, dad and 2 siblings. He was so badly burnt that we had to remove most of his fingers on his left hand. His face, arms and chest were a mess. His eyes looked hollow. I will never forget him. I’m not sure if there are organisations involved in providing and maintaining solar energy to villages but this would be something that I think could really make a difference. I’m sure there are logistical issues involved that I’m not aware of.
Additionally, so many village people don’t have clothes, shoes, access to basic medical treatment etc. There are so many ways people can help.
The gift the people give you is far greater than anything you can do for them. It is the most legitimate and direct impact work I have done, it was also the hardest. You learn very quickly to be resourceful and think outside the square, nothing is wasted.
I would say that all Australians have skills that they can offer, we are very lucky to be equipped and educated with the tools to make change. You don’t just need to be medical, you just need to be smart about what you do and how you do it, as the culture is very different over there.
People in Perth can attend the Rafiki Ball at Burswood on the 16th June 2012, it’s a fantastic event and worth supporting. You can purchase tickets here.
To find out more about the Asante Rafiki Mission, or to make a donation or to donate an auction item for the ball, visit the website here.