Maastricht University 2016

Medical, Tanzania Arusha

Sarah van der Valk

Five amazing weeks in Arusha

There are two things I've always wanted to do. One: become a doctor. Two: to travel around the world.

When I learnt about Work the World I was halfway towards making my first dream come true: I was a third-year medical student, studying hard to help people and make the world a better place. Now it was time to make my second dream come true. As a child I moved around, living in a lot of different countries. Somehow, we never quite made it to Africa. My dad, however, used to live in Kenya and had been across the border to Arusha several times. When I found out that one of the Work the World destinations was Arusha, the decision was made. Arusha, here I come!

Sarah van der Valk

Arusha City

I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport on the 17th of July, late Sunday evening. It was dark outside when we finally got into the car that would take us to the Work the World house in Arusha. I remember being really tired from the flight. 

The next day, those of us who were new to the house got a tour of Arusha. My first impressions of were that it was warm, busy, and very different to what I was used to - although this was not a bad thing! I was just amazed by how different the town was compared to cities in Europe. You could be in a very rich estate one moment, and in the slums the next. One thing that really struck me was that people were very polite and kind. Over the course of the next few days I found that even the street vendors selling bracelets and postcards would politely say goodbye and leave you alone as soon as you said “Hapana asante” (no thank you). Some would even greet you with “Jambo” (hello) every day on your way to and from your hospital placement.

During my 5 week placement I learnt my way around Arusha. One of my favorite places was the Masai Market. This is definitely the place to go for souvenirs. The first few times I went there were very intense; I had to learn not to accept the first price the vendors offered. Once you get the hang of it though, you’ll end up loving the Masai Market. Most of the vendors are really fun to talk to and will try anything to help you find what you’re looking for.  I even made friends with one of the mamas outside the shops who in the end made all my necklaces and bracelets for me.


I was in Arusha for five weeks, of which I spent two weeks in Casualty, two weeks in Surgery and one week in the Masai village.

The casualty department was definitely chaotic, but a good learning experience. You could start the day with no patients at all, waiting for things to happen, and a second later the department would be flooding with people. I saw loads of people involved in traffic accidents, children with severe burns, young girls with an incomplete abortion (which is illegal in Tanzania), and young men who had passed out because of hypoglycemia. The doctors and nurses in the casualty department were very friendly; they would answer most of your questions and let you help diagnose the patient.

The surgery department was very different, and a lot more organized. Everyday we joined the doctors during ward rounds and were even allowed to see some very interesting surgeries. On the wards there were all kinds of different patients: patients with fractures, burns, stab wounds, and the most severe diabetic feet I have ever seen. I remember that at one point two other students and I were helping a nurse dress a diabetic foot. When the dressing came off, there was not a lot left of the foot to save. You could even see where the bone was almost starting to show. 

The village healthcare experience in Engaruka was different still. Here, medical resources were even more scarce. Patients came from far and wide to see Doctor Sanka, the doctor in charge of the medical post. In one case there was even a pregnant woman who walked more than a day to reach the village clinic.

Doctor Sanka was brilliant and patient. He would explain what a patient had said (all patients spoke Maa, which is completely different to Swahili), what his diagnosis was, how he had come to that conclusion and what medication he was going to prescribe. He would then always ask us what we thought about the case and if we agreed with what he said.

Doctor Sanka was definitely one of the nicest doctors I have during my placement.

Sarah van der Valk

Outside of placement

Outside of placement I took part in loads of different things: hiking, canoeing, visiting several orphanages. One thing that stood out to me most though, was an annual outreach clinic in a village in the middle of nowhere, organized by an American doctor who visits Mount Meru Hospital three times a year. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to join him.

On his annual outreach, the American doctor and a few staff members of the hospital visit this village and provide as much help as they possibly can for free.

The entire experience was somewhat overwhelming at first: there was a giant queue outside the medical post consisting of mostly women and children needing help with all sorts of things. I got the opportunity to actually diagnose patients and hand out medication myself. Most of the complaints were joint pains for which we could prescribe only ibuprofen and infections for which we could prescribe only a limited range of antibiotics. We gave all of the children vitamins and deworming pills, just to be sure. This was undeniably one of the best experiences in my time in Arusha. It made me grateful for all the medical help that at home is available for us at any time of every day.

The time I spent in Tanzania was genuinely the most amazing experience in my life. I have met so many different people from different places and seen so many things that I never expected to see. If I could do it all over again, I absolutely would!

Search Reviews