By Susan Meskis, RN, member of the Rotary Club of Fishers, Indiana, USA, and leader of a vocational training team to Tanzania
After a year of planning and with much anticipation, I set out for Tanzania, Africa, as part of a vocational training team (VTT) comprised of nurses to share my expertise in nursing education with the faculty at Aga Khan University’s (AKU) School of Nursing.
We had built a curriculum, created slides and documents, and spent many hours fine-tuning our presentations. We were prepared, and ready for adventure. But things sometimes don’t turn out the way you expect.
As we arrived in Dar es Salaam and met our new friend, the dean of nursing at AKU, Khairunnisa Dhamani, she shared with us the devastating news that one of the educators from the university had died unexpectantly and tragically. There were a lot of “unexpected” events that had occurred during our formation, but we could have never foreseen the bigger lesson that was ahead of us.
The team gathered and prepared a special memorial for the staff and students of AKU. Our first days were not about curriculum or evaluation; they were about connecting and listening. We learned about their colleague, their traditions, and were given the opportunity of walking with them on their grief journey.
I don’t think that we could have learned half of what we ended up learning and experiencing by standing up in front of a classroom. By just being in the moment, the impact of those first few days imprinted itself upon our hearts and hopefully the hearts of those we encountered in Dar es Salaam.
As a team leader, I was given the responsibility of meeting core objectives and building the capacity of a program to make an impact. But the biggest lesson I learned is that to truly accomplish this, we must be open to the learning that comes from listening and being in the company of others. From that place of understanding, a greater impact is made and projects are naturally born.
The trip unfolded in an amazing way. Yes, objectives were met, ideas shared, and relationships created. We have only begun the work that we plan to do together, the VTT and the nurses from AKU. My heart is full of gratitude for the opportunity that Rotary has given me. Great things were expected from this team of nurses, and because we are nurses, we did it from the heart.