“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I learned an incredible amount during my time in Tanzania—from the research project itself, working with locals, living in a completely new cultural and physical environment, and talking to people of very different backgrounds. To summarize, I joined the research group at the Haydom Lutheran Hospital and primarily worked with the field team for follow-up of the MAL-ED (Etiology, Risk Factors, and Interactions of Enteric Infections and Malnutrition and the Consequences for Child Health and Development) study. We either walked or drove to the houses of participants in villages surrounding Haydom to perform cognitive tests and take anthropometry measurements of children enrolled in the study. Along with the fieldwork, I also gained exposure to other ongoing studies in the research laboratory during the afternoons and evenings.
Although data collection will continue into September, I was happy with the amount of progress we made during my six weeks, along with everything I learned through my participation in the study. By the time I left, my field team had collected data from over 90 children, with approximately 100 more to visit in the future. Along with gaining experience taking anthropometry measurements and observing the process of cognitive testing, I learned a lot about cross-cultural collaboration and local customs. In spending time with the field team and experiencing village life around Haydom, I learned the importance of being friendly and open-minded, expressing non-judgmental curiosity regarding local culture, and demonstrating effort in learning and practicing local languages.
Though I felt like our work in the field was largely successful, I experienced some of the difficulties of conducting fieldwork in a resource-limited setting. For example, we were limited in where we could drive by lacking road infrastructure and occasionally had communication issues with parents regarding when their children would be home from school or herding cattle. However, I was impressed with how the field team adapted to these frustrations—texting or calling parents that had cell phones to verify appointments, splitting up home visits among team members, and scheduling appointments in clusters within walking distance.
Outside of working in the field and lab, I was able to see more of Tanzania. With some friends I met at the hospital guesthouse, we took weekend trips to see local craftsmen, go on a short safari, visit a nearby hunter-gatherer tribe, and hike a couple mountains. On one of my favorite trips, we went with local friends on a small boat to visit a missionary site that is now on an island in Lake Basotu. I was surprised to see that in major contrast with other local buildings, the church on the island was nicer than the one I go to at home (and to find a hippo in the lake). Along with enjoying the trips, it was nice to experience Tanzania with other foreigners from different parts of the world. I learned a lot and found it helpful having conversations about our own cultures and how we’ve perceived our time and experiences in Haydom.
Overall, I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in this international research experience—it’s confirmed and reinforced my desire to pursue future global health opportunities, hopefully both in research and clinical settings. Many, many thanks to Dr. Houpt and the UVA Center for Global Health for allowing me this opportunity.