Sonaz is a PG employee that also works as a Registered Nurse in the Bay area. She enjoys climbing, traveling, being outdoors and using her healing skills in the places she travels. Here is a snippet of one of her adventures while working with The Janada L. Batchelor Foundation for Children in Tanzania.
I was told the sounds would “go right to my soul.” I have to admit, I first thought that statement might be a bit of an exaggeration. But even before stepping foot in the building, I knew how correct it was. It was late, I had forgotten my headlamp and was using the most stars I’ve ever seen in my life to navigate the Tanzanian bush to the dining hall. Maggie and Coney, the two house dogs that escorted me most places, were up ahead. They knew the route by heart and I was thankful for their direction.
As I walked into the dining hall I remember catching a glimpse of the Milky Way. Here I was, finally on the African continent that I had imagined for so long, beholding an image I couldn’t have ever dreamed…
Upon entering the dining hall I saw many girls, all orphans that live at JBFC (The Janada Batchelor Foundation for Children). They were singing as they do every night before bed; sitting on the tile floor throughout the room, leaning on the walls or on each other, giggling, soulfully opening their hearts with song. Dressed in their pajamas they took turns speaking, hiding their face in embarrassment as I and other foreign observers quietly watched in awe of these small, powerful women.
The joyous sound of their songs, religious and otherwise, resonated in the hall, full with the depth of their experiences. I sat in the corner the whole time they sang, teary eyed. The sound of song was a beautiful welcome to such a magical country and to JBFC.
JBFC is a girl’s orphanage, home to 48 girls ranging in age from 3 to 16, who were either abused or abandoned. There is also a community school, Joseph and Mary, that offers primary, secondary, high school and vocational school education for 460 students. Permaculture is an important part of life on campus. The farm supports the school by providing two meals a day for students at Joseph and Mary and all meals for the girls at JBFC. Farm fresh food is also provided for Papa’s, the restaurant on campus. The restaurant provides jobs and training opportunity for women wanting to capitalize on this important industry in Tanzania. The girls at JBFC lovingly tend the gardens that feed their sisters and in the process learn about the importance of nutritious food.
I had the good fortune of being introduced and later asked to get involved with JBFC about a year prior. The purpose of my trip was to use my Nursing skills to provide support to the flagship JBFC campus in Kitongo, Tanzania. This included research and loads of reading in the US before my trip. As I prepared for my first foray to Tanzania, I imagined giraffes, scenes from The Lion King and Masai warriors.
After a two-day car ride crammed in the back of an SUV, I was motivated. My first lesson came quite quick. Nothing goes as planned in Africa.
My first real job was to create a First Aid curriculum for the teachers and workers on campus. Topics included CPR, wound care, broken bones, Malaria, fever, poisoning and more. More than just a lecture to a knowledgeable audience, this was my opportunity to learn what those in the community could teach me. Local medicine working in conjunction with my allopathic training has been my ultimate professional goal, and here I was getting to put it all into action.
Some examples of local advice you demand? Well, it’s said that rubbing lizard feces on open wounds will cure one of infection, ground tomato leaf or a ground nut covering can do the same. To the average visitor these ideas might seem bizarre, but this is the crux of the issue.
My ethnocentric bias must be fully recognized for me to work with a community that has been doing it right since the ‘cradle of humanity’ was formed. Local culture and knowledge is irreplaceable and I felt as I did after having sent my first climb at Smith Rock. A high unlike any other.
A few topics in the curriculum required a bit of creativity. With no CPR dummies to demonstrate proper technique upon I used creative licence with an emptied oil can.
Taking vitals like Heart Rate, Breaths per minute and Temperature required a brief anatomy and physiology lesson that was supported by the biology and science teachers at the Joseph and Mary School. Wound care and bleeding involved my scarf.
As the days continued I was privy to more wonderful happenings. I helped write recommendations for a clinic on campus and cataloged donated medical supplies. All of these tasks were done with the help and support of the JBFC family I worked closely with during my time there; I could not have accomplished any of this without them!
The work hours were primarily dusk to the wee hours of the morning when the generator was on, allowing me to access the internet or use a computer. Sandwiched between these work hours were good conversations, wholesome food, improvised ‘African workouts’ and bird-watching from my tent on campus that sat on the shore of Lake Victoria.
The bouldering fields nearby were considered sacred and to enter them required approval from village elders. Instead we opted for the baobab tree. These remarkable trees, true to life as in The Lion King, are majestic creatures thousands of years old. Locals would hack hoe’s into the side of the tree allowing it to grow into the bark to be used as a step ladder.
The climbers (and professional arm-wrestlers) among us scurried to the top finding every nook and crevice, remarking with childlike awe at the splendor of the whole experience.
Climbing urge having been satiated, I was able to spend my last few days in Tanzania truly thankful for my time there. The most meaningful work was completed towards the end of my trip when working one-on-one with the girls that lived there, providing mentoring for interested future nurses and doctors. To be among such strong and beautiful young women and men that have seen so much, and are still so jovial, thankful, and kind has stayed in my mind since returning stateside.
The motivation has followed me home. I have chosen to further study Clinical Herbalism and Nutrition in the hopes of integrating this knowledge into my next trip to the JBFC campus in March of 2014. It’s a dangerous thing as a traveler to claim you will go back to a place, but I have never felt so confident in knowing that I absolutely will!