Olivia’s trip to Zambia

With PEPAIDS/SAPEP

My reasons for wanting to do my midwifery elective placement overseas were to challenge my perceptions and broaden my horizons for my professional development, but also because I love an adventure! When I started browsing the opportunities available through Indigo Volunteers, there wasn’t a particular country or even continent that I had my heart set on but PEPAIDS appealed to me because of their admirable work locally and for their experience with elective healthcare placements. l’d also never been to Africa before and longed to go! Organising my placement was really quite easy and Helen was always on hand to answer my queries and help with the admin side required by my university.

Finally the day came to set off on this big adventure! We arrived at Lusaka airport where the wonderful Wilson, from SAPEP, was there to greet us and tell us more about the charity’s current projects and the history of both charities on the drive down to Monze. Once there, we were greeted by the staff and other students staying at Relax Guesthouse so warmly and were made to feel really welcome. Everything had gone so smoothly and all the people we had met were wonderfully friendly, we couldn’t wait to get started!

Arriving at Monze Mission hospital, we were introduced to one of the senior midwives working on the delivery ward, who showed us around and told us more about how the unit was run and set up. I was surprised by some of the similarities to the hospital I trained at in the UK and the resources that were available compared with my expectations. We then got to work alongside the midwives and student midwives to provide labour care for a number of women with different needs. On reflection, I was ill prepared for how actively managed the care would be and was probably naive to think I would see more normality. In all honesty some of our experiences were shocking and even saddening, but highlighted some of the cultural, professional and practical differences we were there to experience and learn from.

In comparison, I found the antenatal ward a really enjoyable place to work. Due to the distances some women have to travel and the limited transport, those deemed high risk for various reasons are admitted to the hospital from 36-37 weeks gestation to await the onset of labour, so you get to know some of the women quite well! This was a really good opportunity to learn more about various pregnancy complications, put our midwifery skills to good use and get involved in the daily antenatal education and dance sessions, yes dance sessions! This was a great way to encourage women to mobilise and put a smile on their faces – extending to uncontrollable laughter on the days we lead the dancing!

In terms of the set up, the hospital is a separate organisation from the charity but you are able and encouraged to experience both. As students on an elective placement, in fundraising for PEPAIDS they organised our introduction to the hospital but after this we organised our day-to-day plans with the staff at the hospital directly. Wilson was then very helpful in organising other opportunities within the Monze community such as working at one of the local schools, which was great fun.

This really short account only touches on a few of so many valuable, difficult, humbling and wonderful experiences I had during my elective but overall it was a fantastic opportunity that I would thoroughly recommend. My advice would be to go for longer than two weeks (unfortunately that was all we had), be open minded, do your homework and talk about your experiences, good and bad, with different people to learn from a range of views and opinions. Seize the opportunities available to you but be mindful of your own values, beliefs and standards and give as much as you can! It wasn’t all plain sailing but to sum up, my elective was one of the best professional challenges and personal experiences I have had.