When I arrived in Dar es Salaam, I was overwhelmed by the tropical heat, even though it was during the early hours of the morning. It took another 12 hours on a bus to reach Moshi, a little town at the bottom of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Soon I would learn that there was a marker in the middle of town where I could find the biggest papayas I have ever seen. I would get used to enduring the dry heat of September days, eating ugali with beans for dinner most evenings and fighting with my mosquito net every night. What would never stop surprising me however, was how friendly, talkative and kind the people of Moshi are.  It was there that I was to instruct first aid for the month to come.

My journey there was just the beginning of my work with First Aid Africa – a charity aiming to provide sustainable first aid training across sub-Saharan Africa. The first aid training is provided to the local communities free of charge and for a small fee to businesses and large organizations. My role as an international volunteer was to teach first aid according to a standardized curriculum on several different placements. In preparation for the expedition I was trained in first aid and in teaching techniques, while still in the UK. In addition to international volunteers, First Aid Africa trains local volunteers as well. During my time in Tanzania I had an opportunity to meet them and share ideas about how to tackle the challenges that the charity faces. It is not only Tanzania that First Aid Africa is active in, but Kenya, Uganda and Malawi as well. The courses are conducted in schools, community centres and sometimes simply under the bright blue sky. For these placements, the charity sometimes partners up with other organization in order to reach as many people as possible.

One such partner organization has been Give a Heart to Africa, a women’s empowerment project. The organization is based at the outskirts of Moshi, full of tall trees providing deep shade and red dirt roads. On a sunny morning Mt. Kilimanjaro can be seen towering over the town from just outside of the gate. The organization provides a free vocational training to the women from the local community. English, business, and maths, all have their own classrooms surrounding a stone house where the volunteers reside. Additionally, the organization offers mentoring to enable the women to pursue entrepreneurship as a career path.  And now some of the current students at Give a Heart to Africa can add to the impressive list of their abilities another one: first aid.

When myself and other volunteers arrived on our first day at Give a Heart to Africa, we were greeted by the lovely manager and about twenty of the female students who attended the classes. Immediately, we were all chatting – we felt welcome. During our first class we discussed basic precautions that are important when giving first aid. The students had lots of ideas to contribute and they were never afraid to speak up. In the days to come, we taught the ladies how to help an unconscious casualty, what the initial help should be for different types of bleeding, for broken bones, different severities of burns as well as snake bites and soft tissue injuries. What I found the most striking during this experience was the inquisitiveness, engagement, and critical approach of the women. Thanks to their kindness I begun to learn about the local know-how ranging from local first aid solutions to wrapping a head scarf. I have found myself often pausing to consider the most unexpected of questions such as “Why do some Asian people eat snakes?”. I was overwhelmed by the sense of community and mutual support that I have observed.

All the topics were taught in a practical manner. We spent most of the classes in the courtyard where the women could practice the different techniques in the shade of the orange wall surrounding the buildings. The space would always fill with laughter and chatting when the ladies pretended to have fainted or were applying bandages. At the very end of the course all the women had the opportunity to demonstrate their practical abilities during a brief assessment. On the last day they also received a certificate stating their new qualification in first aid.

Once the course has finished, some of the women begun to comment on how they will use the newly acquired knowledge. Salama, a leader of her community, remarked that she was going to pass on the knowledge to other people in the village where she lives. Another lady inquired whether it would be possible to run a course at a secondary school her son attended. One of the graduates, Magdalena, who runs a child care centre was happy to know what to do if one of the children was injured. Another remarked that she felt comfortable knowing that if anyone in her family is injured she will know how to respond. These statements, though anecdotal, give me hope that even such a small thing as a first aid course has the capacity to positively influence the community and promote women’s empowerment.

First Aid Africa is a charity aiming to provide sustainable first aid training across sub-Saharan Africa.

Give a Heart to Africa is a non-profit organization providing free vocational training to women in Tanzania.

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