I graduated from SLU in the spring of 2011, where I was a psychology major and an African studies minor. I was a member of Kappa Delta Sigma Sorority, was on the Women’s Club Ice Hockey team and I was also an SLU Buddy. Although I had incredible experiences in and out of the psychology classrooms on the St. Lawrence University campus, my most memorable and life changing learning experience involving mental health was during my semester abroad in Kenya and Tanzania.
Each student that participates in the Kenya Semester Program is given the opportunity to volunteer for a month long internship in a field of his or her interest anywhere in East Africa. Since I am interested in mental health and clinical psychology I decided to spend my internship at Kidongo Chekundu Mental Hospital and its partner organization, the Voluntary Counseling and Testing Department of Substance Abuse on Zanzibar Island in Tanzania.
At Kidongo Chekundu I was given different opportunities and assigned different tasks each day throughout the hospital. The staff members helped me learn as much as I could about how the hospital functioned, how the mental healthcare system in Tanzania operated, and about the illnesses affecting the majority of patients and the treatment that is given to them. I most often worked with the hospital’s head psychiatrist doing rounds in the male and female wards of the hospital. I observed diagnosis meetings and provided input whenever I could. Most of the patients admitted to the hospital had a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Some days at the hospital I worked in the social work department where I helped with recording outpatient histories. I learned how to take appropriate records and I conducted interviews with patients and their relatives, working with a translator since I spoke very little Kiswahili. Other days I traveled to Kidongo Chekundu outpatient clinics all over Zanzibar Island to deliver medications. Most of the patients at these clinics were diagnosed with epilepsy or schizophrenia.
When there was no work for me to do at Kindongo Chekundu I walked down the road to the hospitals partner organization, VCT Department of Substance Abuse. Here I attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings that were extremely powerful and influential. Most of the participants attending these meetings were recovering from heroin addiction.
This month long internship was the best learning experience I had throughout my college career. I cannot express how grateful I am to have participated as a volunteer at Kidongo Chekundu and the VCT Department of Substance Abuse in Tanzania. I met many interesting people and befriended members of the staff, inpatients, outpatients, and NA members. I hope that someday I will be able to go back to Zanzibar Island, bringing with me more extensive knowledge and clinical experience in order to make a bigger impact at these two institutions.