Tanzania – Colleen Lane (2014)

Healthcare Tip Sheet:
Traveling to or Living in Tanzania? What to know before you go.
Dispensaries and small community health centers, as well as traditional healers deliver the majority of healthcare in Tanzania. However there are also district hospitals, regional hospitals, and finally the consult hospitals which all have different services and varied ability to provide medical services.
Medical Dispensaries
1 per 10,000 people
A medical dispensary is able to provide basic medical supplies, vaccinations, and basic medications. Generally nurses staff dispensaries, although some private dispensaries may have an assistant medical officer or a physician. There are no inpatient facilities. Most dispensaries are able to provide basic preventative care, delivery services and mother-and-child care.
Health Centers
1 per 50,000 people
A health center usually has some capacity for inpatient care, generally about 20 beds. Typically they have a senior assistant medical officer, laboratory assistants, nurses and midwives on staff. They are able to provide basic preventative healthcare, immunizations, delivery services, and child health services. They also provide supervision to the dispensaries.
District Hospital
1 hospital per district (population 100,000-200,000), 1 bed per 1,000 people
Typically staffed by 2-4 medical physicians, also with assistant medical officers. Able to provide basic inpatient care and laboratory services: internal medicine, Ob/Gyn, pediatrics and general surgery. There are no specialized departments.
Regional Hospitals:
1 per district (population 1 million people)
Hospitals able to provide inpatient care, with experienced medical doctors, assistant medical officers, laboratory services and nurses. Many with schools for training assistant medical officers and some medical students may rotate there. They may have some departments of specialization. Theses are the hospitals that will refer patients to the referral or consult hospitals.
Consult/Referral Hospital
Each of the 3 hospitals service 1/3rd of the country’s population
There are three currently in the country. They have medical schools and teaching universities affiliated. Each has departments of specialization with experienced medical specialists and laboratory services. Accesses to advanced imaging (CT scans) as well as advanced laboratory testing are still limited even at these referral centers.
Dar es Salaam-Muhimbili Hospital
Mwanza- Bugando Medical Center
Moshi- (Kiliminjaro Christian Medical Center, KCMC)

Private Hospitals
The above-mentioned public hospitals and medical centers are often limited in the scope of medical care that they can provide. Therefore, many people with the means to do so often chose to attend private hospitals. A more comprehensive array of services can be offered, including more access to physician specialists, CT scans, and a wider variety of laboratory testing. A list of private hospitals is kept on the United States Department of State website, an updated link is provided below.

Communicable Diseases:
As a traveler in the developing world, you are at increased risk of contracting common infectious diseases depending on the demographics of the regional to which you are visiting. The following is a list of communicable diseases that are present in Tanzania.
-Traveler’s Diarrhea
-Hepatitis A
-Hepatitis B
-Yellow Fever
Travel Tips
1. Update your vaccinations before traveling.
Simple steps can be taken to decrease your risk of contracting the diseases listed above. This includes obtaining vaccinations against typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, as well as yellow fever prior to travel. The rabies vaccine is currently only recommended for travelers who plan to spend an extended period of time in endemic areas such as Tanzania, or those individuals who are planning to move to Tanzania.
**Bring your vaccination card with you! Some countries require proof of vaccination at customs during your point of entry.

2. Recognize the signs of dehydration, and treat it aggressively.
No matter where you are traveling in the world, you are at risk of developing the colorfully named: Montezuma’s revenge, Dehli belly, or traveler’s diarrhea. This common condition can quickly lead to dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities. High-risk areas for traveler’s diarrhea include developing countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America as well as the Middle East. It is usually caused by bacteria contracted from undercooked foods, contaminated water, or unwashed fruits/vegetables. The E. coli bacteria is the most common cause, while Salmonella, Shigella and Campylobacter are less common causes.
• Drink plenty of fluids, water as well as fluids with electrolytes/sugar like sports drinks to keep hydrated
• If possible pack a few World Health Organization dehydration packets to use in case of traveler’s diarrhea
• Pack antibiotics to use in case of traveler’s diarrhea (Ciprofolaxacin or Azithromycin). Although, these antibiotics may be available for purchase in most big cities with a pharmacy without a prescription while traveling.
• Seek immediate medical attention at a hospital with a certified physician f you have bloody diarrhea, persistent vomiting that won’t allow you to keep down fluids, or a fever. These may be signs of a more serious bacterial infection.
• Seek immediate medical attention if you pass out, or feel like you might faint, especially when standing up, or if you feel your heart racing or pounding. These may be signs of severe dehydration and the need for IV fluids.

3. Be prepared for Malaria if traveling to an endemic area
The CDC website as well as your local travel clinic will advise you if the area to which you plan to travel has a risk for contracting Malaria. The best treatment for malaria is prevention! Be sure to get (and take!) you Malaria prophylaxis. This is a prescription, which you and your doctor will chose based on where you are traveling and the side affect profile. Also, remember to wear bug spray, daily, and wear long sleeves and pants at dusk especially during rainy season. But remember, if with all the right precautions taken you still may contract malaria.
• If you have a fever, joint pains, nausea, vomiting, headaches or flu-like symptoms, you may have Malaria. The quickest way to check is to purchase a rapid malaria test at any pharmacy. In Malaria endemic areas these tests are inexpensive and readily available. If you cannot find a Malaria test then you must go to a health care center for a blood screen.
• If your Malaria test (either blood screen or rapid test) is positive, you will need to get treated. In most cities and even smaller towns with a pharmacy or medical dispensary should have anti Malaria medication available for purchase.
• If you develop confusion, difficult breathing, or bleeding and either have a suspicion for Malaria OR a positive test then you need to seek immediate medical attention for possible severe Malaria.

4. Practice Safe Sex
When traveling abroad, you will have many new and exciting experiences. In some cases this may mean meeting new and interesting people, and possibly having a romantic relationship. Just like in the Unites States sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common. Depending on the area of the world to which you are traveling there may be increased risk of certain STIs including syphilis and HIV.
• Be prepared to practice safe sex. Condoms are hard to find in many countries, especially religiously conservative countries. Therefore, condoms as well as your preferred birth control method should be on your packing list.

5. Be sure to bring Global Health Insurance
Some health insurance providers may provide some global coverage, but this should be clarified before you embark. Many insurance plans require that you buy short-term supplemental health insurance when traveling. This will cover expenses such as evacuation to your home country as well as expenses incurred in country needed for stabilizing and preparing you for transfer.
• Can compare prices for international health insurance at:,,

6. Be prepared for a hospital/clinic in the developing world
If you need to seek medical attention for any emergency, be prepared to encounter the healthcare system in a developing world. The clinic and hospital will be crowded and confusing. Bring a friend or if you are traveling alone ask someone at your hotel/hostel to accompany you. If you do not speak the local language, again ask a hotel or hostel employee to go with you. In most hospitals and clinics in developing countries you will be asked to pay for all medications, imaging studies (x-rays, CT scans), and services (stitches, surgery) in cash at the time they are delivered. So, be prepared. Bring plenty of local currency with you to the hospital. If you need to spend the night- you many need a friend to bring water and food, and maybe linen. So, plan ahead.
• Before leaving for your travel destination, look up location and addresses of local clinics and hospitals. As a general rule of thumb, private clinics and hospitals have more access to medications, and medical diagnostic tests.
• Go the US Department of State Website to find a list of reputable local doctors and hospitals
• Do not go to local healers, witch doctors or medicine men. Herbs used in local medicines may be harmful. Razors used to cut the skin for treatments can cause tetanus, and even transmit HIV.

7. Get a check up when you come home
Your primary care doctor will be able to screen you for possible diseases or conditions contracted when you were abroad. You may need treatment for parasite or worms if you were exposed. You may also need to be screened for tuberculosis.

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Kenya – Katy Bullard (2014)

Travel tips:
• Before departing, sign up for alerts through the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
• Contact your health insurance provider before going to check on their policies for international travel, and consider investing in travel insurance. Through providers like Global Nomads, it’s quite inexpensive and can make a huge difference.
• Do some research before arriving in-country to learn about cultural customs and guidelines for social interactions and dress. Being aware of certain practices that may have a different meaning in your host country can help you avoid potentially uncomfortable and unsafe situations.
• Invest in an inexpensive pay-as-you-go phone in-country. Just in case, know the country’s emergency numbers and have the names and numbers of friends or other contacts in the area.
• Have the names and phone numbers of a few cab drivers you trust, and always set the price of a trip before you get moving.
• Keep multiple copies of your passport, visa, credit and bank cards, and health/travel insurance information in different places, just in case something goes missing.
• Keep a card in your wallet with emergency contact information, any allergies, and other important information in case of emergency.
• Avoid crowded public transportation until you’ve been in-country long enough to know the lay of the land. Buckle up in taxis and on buses, even if no one else does.
• A small flashlight is always helpful to have on hand.
• If someone asks where you’re staying or where you’re going, keep your response as vague as possible.
• Be aware of you surroundings, especially in crowded areas. Keep valuables in a secure bag (ideally a cross-body bag, so you can keep a hand on it at all times) rather than a backpack.
• Learn a few words or phrases in the host country’s language.
• Always travel with a friend, and, especially at night, never walk alone.

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Zambia – Sara Seghezzo (2014)

-Before you go:
Register with the US embassy. You’ll receive email notifications if anything is happening in any of the countries your traveling in.
-Go to your local travel clinic and make sure your vaccinations are all up to date. Even though Zambia does not require yellow fever vaccine, other African countries (including South Africa) do. If you think you might be doing other traveling (or have layovers) it is important to have the vaccine and the documentation or you might not be able to board your flight. Zambia is in a malaria zone, so prophylaxis is recommended (along with lots of bug spray). It is also useful to get some cipro, just in case, for any unforseen GI issues.
-Bring an old cell phone, SIM cards are cheap and it’s free to receive calls. If your phone has data, data SIM cards are relatively cheap and another easy way to stay in touch with people back home (whatsapp and skype are great apps). Having a phone is also an important way for people to get a hold of you in country
-Call your bank and credit card companies before you leave to let them know that you will be traveling abroad so they don’t block your cards. Also ask them what their international transaction fees are for transactions and ATM use, as those can quickly add up.

Overall, Zambia is a very safe and beautiful country with extremely friendly people. Everyone is always smiling and asking you about your day. Even with that, it is important to always be aware of your surroundings and stay safe while traveling.
-Ask locals/expats working at the clinic for tips. They are your best resource for places to go, things to see and the best ways to stay safe. If they advise not to do something, you should follow it.

-When possible, try to travel with a buddy. It not only makes it more fun, but you also can look out for eachother.

-Always act confident, even if you think you’re lost. If you need time to look at a map, go into a restaurant or a shop rather than standing out in the street, where you’ll seem like a lost tourist and be a possible target for pickpockets

-Zambia has both registered and unregistered taxis. Talk to locals at the clinic and have them recommend drivers that they trust. Try to use those when possible. Have locals give you an idea of how much rides to certain areas of town should cost. Always determine a taxi fare before entering the car, and bargain if you are over-quoted. Carry exact change or offer to pay for gas along the way, as drivers often do not carry change.

-Even though Zambia is relatively safe, you should not walk around at night alone. If you’re planning on being out after dark, make sure your taxi driver is willing to drive at night or you have a reliable way to get home.
-Always carry tissues (lots of public toilets lack toilet paper), hand sanitizer and water purification tabs, just in case. Tap water is not safe to drink, so always purify your water before drinking it or buy bottled water.
-Power can often come and go, even in big cities, so a flashlight is very useful. Headlamps are even better because they leave your hands free (very helpful when trying to go to the bathroom in the dark!)
-Air travel within Africa can be expensive, so many Zambians travel by bus. Roads to the major attractions in Zambia (Victoria Falls and South Luangwa National Park) are well paved but lack any sort of illumination at night. Speeding is a big problem among drivers and it is therefore advised to only travel during the day and only on recommended bus companies. Ask locals working at the clinic which companies have the best reputation. They can also help you navigate the bus station as it can be a crazy experience the first time you go.

-As a girl, it’s always useful to have a purse with a zipper. It makes it harder for pickpockets to reach inside.

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Morocco – Aerion Ward (2014)

1. Be vigilant and observant, unlike the United States, going for casual aloof strolls is not a suggested thing.
2. When walking, move with authority as though you know where you are going and with a clear defined purpose.
3. Learn key words immediately upon arrival, No, How Much, Too Expensive.
4. Make sure you have a key landmark to where you are living/staying. And make sure it is the only one with that name!
5. Honestly, put your headphones in, but keep the volume low or not playing at all. I found it significantly decreased the amount of unwanted attention directed at me.
6. Of course, nighttime, alone especially is not too safe. There has been an increase in attacks on locals.
7. For women, when walking at night and in the medinas, going with men is very helpful! If you can, do try to have a man accompany you.
8. Get a local cell phone, in North Africa Wi-Fi is not as prevalent.
9. Google-map directions to where you are going before leaving your home/stay, so you know minimal the direction in which you should be heading.

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Rwanda & Zambia – Sarah Smith (2013)

Traveling abroad can be an extremely rewarding and even life changing experience, but you need to be prepared in order to have a safe and enjoyable trip. Some basic safety tips which are important when traveling abroad are to learn about the history and the culture of the place before you go. This will influence the way you dress and the way you conduct your behavior over there. You don’t want to offend anyone by wearing shorts in an area where legs are considered inappropriate to expose. You also don’t want to say anything insensitive that could offend anyone so be aware of their religious and cultural beliefs as well as their relevant history. Avoid walking anywhere alone if possible (especially at night) as you are a much easier target that way. Keep your purse close to you and zipped up at all times to avoid pick pocketers. Try to always be aware of your surroundings. Trust your instincts. If an area feels unsafe, it probably means you should avoid going there. If you get a bad vibe from someone you talk to – trust your gut – it’s usually right. You need to be able to tell the difference between someone who is genuinely trying to help you and someone who is trying to deceive you. This can be difficult, but again – trusting your gut is the best tool. Don’t get into unmarked taxis. They may be cheaper, but they are run by people who are not registered and could be criminals trying to kidnap foreigners. Always register with the US Embassy so they know where you are and read their up to date safety information. Keep in close contact with your friends and family back home so they are aware of your whereabouts. Get the recommended vaccinations from the CDC website. Bring cipro (an antibiotic) in case you get travelers diarrhea. Drink only bottled water or boil your water before you drink it. Speak with the local people and find out what they suggest in terms of local travel safety – they will be the best informed about this.

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Botswana – Emily MacDuffie (2013)

Being Safe in Botswana: Lessons from a Young Traveler

When I learned that I would be spending the next six months studying cervical cancer in Botswana, my brain was bombarded by questions. How would I get there? Would my patients like me? How would I pack for frigid nights and frying-pan hot days? What food would I eat? All of these questions would be answered in time. One question that did not immediately come to mind was “How will I stay safe?” As a young Caucasian girl from America, there are always increased risks when traveling abroad, especially to a non-Western country with a very different culture. Although I had previously spent a few weeks each in India, China, and South Africa, this was going to be my first long-term experience living abroad and the first time I was living and working alone. I was extremely fortunate to find Sara’s Wish Foundation not only to help me fund my travel to and from Botswana but to help me remember how important it is to plan ahead in order to be as safe as possible in the unfamiliar environment I was about to encounter.
My first step was making sure that I had contacts both in Botswana and the US that could help in case of emergency. I registered with International SOS, the emergency medical and security assistance provider for the University of Pennsylvania as well as their Global Activities Registrar. Additionally, I downloaded the International SOS app on my phone so it would always be in reach. I also made a point to reach out to the in-country coordinators at the Botswana-UPenn Partnership so that they were well informed of my travel plans. The second step was contacting a friend who had just returned home from a year-long fellowship studying at the University of Botswana. She was able to tell me about transportation, housing, and general cultural norms I should be aware of. This vital information helped ease me into everyday living in Gaborone, the capital, when I finally arrived a few months later. I felt more confident about how to interact with locals, navigate the public transportation (and gauge when it was a good idea to use it or not), and also allowed me to find a safe living situation in a homestay with a wonderful retired couple.
In addition to the specific advice from my knowledgeable friend, I also gathered advice from locals during my first few weeks. For example, when my Batswana friends would caution against riding in a mini bus after sunset, I heeded their words and would always get a cab. And of course, I always used the seatbelts! I also learned about cross-country travel. After hearing how crowded buses could get, I made a distinct effort to arrive early at the bus station to secure a seat instead of having to stand. Finally, I found that transportation in a foreign country isn’t so hard if you can make friends that you trust. I was able to connect with many other expatriates like myself who had personal transportation that was safer and more reliable than public transport. These friends were a lifeline to me and definitely reduced my travel risk during my stay. Being safe isn’t just about finding safe means of transport, it is also about making relationships with people who will help you, know your whereabouts, and even be lifelong friends.

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Namibia – Elizabeth Skurdahl (2014)

Hitchhiking: Hitchhiking, or simply “hiking” as it is referred to locally, is the most common form of transport in Namibia (and in much of southern Africa). Many people in Namibia who live in remote areas don’t have their own vehicles, so they get rides with those who do, splitting the cost of gas. In addition to being the most common form of transport, hiking can also be the best way to see this beautiful country if you don’t have access to your own car.
I hiked throughout my time in Namibia and found it to be a great method of transportation. However, there are some ways to be smart hiker!
First, start conversations with those waiting with you at the hike point for a ride. Not only is it a great way to meet interesting people, they most likely will help you find a ride and make sure you get where you need to go.
Second, when a car does arrive and you are arranging a ride, always make sure to ask the driver where he/she is going, rather than revealing your own destination. That way, if you feel uncomfortable about the ride or want to refuse the hike, you can do so easily by saying you need to travel somewhere else.
Third, always make sure to negotiate the price of the ride in advance. It’s no fun arriving at your destination expecting to pay one price only to find out that your driver wants more!
Finally, go with your gut! You know if a situation seems unsafe or a person makes you uncomfortable, even if you can’t really explain why. Never take a hike where you don’t feel sure about the driver and his/her car.
Cabs: In bigger cities like Windhoek, cabs are the best way to get around. Legitimate, registered cabs will always have large numbers painted on the doors and the back window. Never get in a “cab” that is not painted with these numbers.
Greeting: This might seem like common sense, but you should also make sure you greet people politely before speaking with them. In Namibia, and in many other countries throughout Africa, correct greetings are extremely important as they are a sign of respect and understanding. Speaking to someone without first saying “Hello, how are you?” and allowing them to respond in kind is considered very rude and disrespectful. No matter whom you are speaking to – your boss, your neighbor, a cab driver, a grocery store clerk – always greet them before beginning a conversation or asking for help.
ATMs: When withdrawing cash from an ATM also make sure to check that no one is standing close behind you, as it is common for thieves to look over your shoulder to steal your pin number. Also, if anyone offers to “help you” withdraw money, always refuse as they are most likely looking to steal your debit card.
Important Documents: Make copies of all your important documents – passport, visa, credit cards, etc. Leave a copy at home with a family member or trusted friend and take several copies with you. Having a copy will make replacing the document a lot easier should it become lost or stolen. You can also have a copy of your passport certified at a local police station. You can use this certified copy as identification if you need it as you travel around Namibia and keep your real passport safely locked in your

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Tanzania + General Tips – Rachel Hagues (2013)

Lessons Learned in International Travel: Tips for Others

Learn greetings and basic local words
People love to be greeted in their own language. Especially if traveling to a remote area, making the effort at least to learn how to greet the locals can make all the difference! You can quickly go from being the stuck-up foreigner to the friendly traveler whom people are anxious to welcome. Sometimes, even showing effort to communicate in the local language can go a long way to cause the locals to want to help you, too. For example, for my dissertation research (funded in-part by Sara’s Wish), I moved to a remote part of Tanzania for several months. When I first arrived, though I knew some Kiswahili, I was by no-means fluent, and I had to travel from the airport, across a fairly decent sized city, to catch a boat that would take me to the area where I would live the next 6 months. I was fairly nervous about getting through the city with all of my things (remember, I was moving there to stay for 6 months, so I had some hefty bags). As well, having been there before, I knew that finding a taxi that charged a reasonable rate could be a challenge, particularly for the one who was obviously not from the area. Thankfully, I knew enough Kiswahili to be able to negotiate a reasonable price. By the time we got to the port the taxi driver was so excited I knew “kidogo” – a little — Kiswahili, as broken as my Kiswahili was, that he made it his mission to not only be sure I made it to the port, but also to make sure I ate a good lunch and was not traveling on an empty stomach. We went to the port, got my ticket, and he took me to a hotel where I could keep my bags behind the desk and go eat. Before he left, he showed me where I should go to get a taxi for my return to the port and made sure I was well taken care of by the waitress. I do not think he would have been so helpful if I had not made the effort to communicate with him in Kiswahili (with a smile) – even if I did have to keep my trusty dictionary handy.
Be willing to laugh at yourself
This is sometimes difficult to do, but developing the ability to laugh at yourself – particularly your struggles with the language – takes much of the stress off of being unable to clearly communicate or understand what you are being told. It also gives the locals the freedom to laugh with you, rather than laugh at you. I can provide a personal example. In Kiswahili, the word for books is “vitabu” and the word for potatoes is “viazi.” One day I had some left over viazi that I wanted to share with the 6-year old girl that lived next door. So, I brought my pot of potatoes over, set down the pot in front of her, and (in Kiswahili, of course) rather than saying, “do you want to eat some potatoes (viazi),” I said, “do you want to eat some books (vitabu)?” All the while, pointing to the pot of potatoes. She looked at me, pointed to the pot, laughed, and said, “vitabu”? Recognizing the mistake I made, we both were soon rolling with laughter. We proceeded to tell her mom, who was inside when this all happened, and also had a great laugh from it. Ever since, we jokingly have called “potatoes,” “books.”
Be flexible and patient
In Africa, Mexico, and many other places we often refer to as “developing,” time and plans are much more loose than in many westernized countries, particularly the United States. Learn to “go with the flow.” The people who live there have already learned to do so. So, don’t be overly anxious if you are late because of the bus, because you met someone on the way who wanted to talk, because you had a flat tire, etc. It is likely that the people who are expecting your arrival will not even notice your tardiness, or if they do notice, it likely will not irritate them.
Don’t get discouraged
You may have specific goals you are hoping to achieve as you head off into a new country. If you are unable to achieve them the way you had planned, do not let yourself get discouraged. I have many times traveled somewhere with a plan to teach or serve, but have completely been derailed upon my arrival. Often I find that there are other needs that the community considers to be more pressing priorities. Put their needs before your own plans. Remember they are the ones who have to live there after you have gone! I have found that many times I have needed to alter my plans to fit their needs, and the end result is that we have both gained. For example, the first time I went to Tanzania I was a first-year PhD student. My fellow-student colleagues and I had been told that we would lead a program for local teenage girls. We had been preparing activities for months beforehand. But upon our arrival, we learned that local women leaders thought that we were going to provide trainings to them on how they could/should work with their local girls. So rather than toss out all of the plans we made, we invited the women to come and watch as we worked with the girls, and learn from the methods we were using. Not only did they benefit from this, but the girls benefited, too. However, we also benefited from the presence of the women. They were able to provide wisdom and insight into some of the challenges the girls faced, providing knowledge to us that more rightly informed our activities. Rather than us guessing what some of the needs of the girls were, the women were able to offer what they knew.
Be Wise!
People will be curious about you. You do not have to tell them where you live, why you are there, how long you are staying, if you are single, or if you are interested in romance. Be wise and do not tell them where you live unless they need to know. Do not walk by yourself at night – and even during the daytime be careful where you go alone. If your skin or your dress characterize you as being “western”, you may want to carry your bags on the front of your person and do not put important things in your pockets unless they zip or button.
In some countries, if you are a woman you especially need to be concerned about modesty. I always wore skirts or loose pants that went below mid-calf and never wore tank-tops outside of my compound. It is smart to dress similarly as the women who live in the community. You will probably already attract enough attention and do not want the local men thinking you want additional attention from them!
If I have learned anything traveling, it is that a friendly smile goes a long way.

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Malawi – Kelli Wong (2012)

Kelli Wong

Kelli Wonggraduated from Colgate University and received her medical degree from Tulane.  Now in her residency in pediatrics, Kelly spent a month in Malawi providing medical care to HIV positive children.  Kelly received a $1500 scholarship from  Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Kelli’s travel safety tips:

  1. Always let someone know where you are going, how you are traveling, when you are leaving and when you should be expected to return. Also give your phone number to a trusted person if you have a mobile phone. I always told my lodge my travel plans, and it was nice to have someone check in with me to make sure I am safe.
  2. It is always nice to be social when in public places (e.g. restaurants, bars, hotels), but be wary of the information you tell others about yourself and be cautious that others may be listening. Because of the fuel crisis in Malawi, I was frequently trying to meet people (other international visitors) who may want to travel with me on the weekends. While at a restaurant, I was arranging a meeting point and told a friend where I was staying. Apparently a local overheard my conversation, mentioned to me where I was staying, and this made me feel very uncomfortable. As a consequence, I changed rooms within the lodge.
  3. When you travel abroad, always bring both a mastercard and visa with you. Some countries’ or cities’ banks may only accept one to get out money. For Malawi, most ATMs take visa only.
  4. When taking a taxi, always set your price and drop off point outside the car before you trip. Whenever possible try to share a cab with others going to remotely the same area. If you get a taxi driver you trust/like or even a car with functioning seatbelts, ask for the drivers mobile number and use him/her whenever possible.
  5. Know what time it gets dark at night, and never walk alone at night. Your lodge watchman may be willing to come pick you up and walk you back to the lodge, if you are not too far from your place of stay.
  6. Carry a headlamp on you at all times. Especially in Africa, because you never know where you will be when the power goes out.

Kenya – Mariah Hennen (2012)

Mariah Hennen

Mariah Hennenis a student at Kalamazoo College. Mariah spent the summer of 2012 in Kenya where she is worked with The Umoja Project, developing a palliative care program for vulnerable children.  Mariah received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Mariah’s travel safety tips:

Kenya touched my inner-soul and left there a mark that I wasn’t expecting.  I went to Kenya preparing myself for a more professional experience; centering myself on the idea that I was there to intern and my learning would be focused around that experience.  However, I left Kenya with more personal and heartfelt experiences, rather than entirely professional.  My memories of Kenya are grounded on the people I met, the stories I heard and the times I shared with others.  I came expecting to develop professionally; I left having developed as a human-being.

For me, I will always remember Kenya as a time full of joy.  As result of the people I met and the work I was fortunate to complete, in Kenya I felt so free, alive and joyful.  Kenya supported my growth and challenged me in exciting ways.  I attribute my growth primarily to one of distinguishing characteristics of my time in Kenya: the people.  In Kenya the tradition of hospitality is genuine and generous.  Coming from the United States, a place where the welcoming of strangers is much less common, at times the Kenyan hospitality was overwhelming.  Often, it was also humbling; as those who had little offered me whatever they could, sometimes a cup of tea or several avocados harvested from the tree behind the house.  No matter where I was, at a school, visiting a home or walking down the road, the happiness to receive visitors was inspiring.  These experiences challenged me to think about the way I treat visitors in the U.S., causing me to question whether I am as grateful for the presence of a stranger, as I am happy to welcome a friend.  In Kenya I was received joyfully into communities that respected me as person and treated me as friend.  Together we celebrated the pleasure that comes from creating relationships and through these relationships I learned about a different culture and about myself.

The Kenya that is portrayed in the media is commonly one of horrible sadness and despair.  This is not the Kenya I experienced.  While there are terribly difficult situations, there is also so much good occurring.  Kenya is filled with incredibly dedicated and truly decent people, who are devoting their lives to creating a better future for all Kenyans.  Every day I was inspired by the people I worked with; their abilities to be visionaries of a better world, to empathize with those in their communities and to channel their emotions into productive work.  The guardians, the teachers and the religious leaders, who tirelessly dedicate themselves to the orphans and vulnerable children in their communities, taught me about just how positive change occurs when communities come together to work to solve an issue.  As I interned in Kenya I was often reminded that related challenges also exist in the United States.  Here there are also orphans and vulnerable children, here there are addicts and street children, and here there are people who go to bed hungry.  Reflecting upon this, I am challenged to examine whether I am dedicated enough to work to change big issues not only in Kenya, but in the United States.  Despite the difficulties around the world, my time in Kenya, being part of an incredible organization and seeing amazing work being done, gave me hope.  Change is possible, it just takes commitment.

My time in Kenya was full of personal growth.  It provided me the space to reflect on where I have been, where I perceive my life to be going and decide if I was taking the correct steps forward.  There was professional growth, too – I did learn an incredible amount about how international partnerships work and the struggles of grassroots work that come along with working directly with communities.  Most importantly, I left with a better understanding of if this type of work is my future.  It is an unclear answer and I still have much to ponder, but this summer left me with incredible ideas and models for what my life might include.  This experience challenged me to contemplate about what healthy lifestyles are, to think critically about U.S. involvement in international NGOs and to reflect upon my remaining college years.  This summer opened up new doors and reaffirmed my passion and excitement for the future.

I left Kenya with family, friends and a place to go back to in the future.  Kenya embraced me and I am honored to be a part of communities there.  My time is colored by the incredible people I met, by the scenes of joy I experienced and by the times of fellowship I shared.  Kenya is a blur of color and smells, a mixture of sweet and sour, a combination of sadness and joy, and full of an overwhelming sense of hope for the future.  I am eternally grateful for the support I received from Sara’s Wish Foundation.  Without the support my time in Kenya would not have transpired and I would have missed an amazing experience.  Kenya changed my life, inspiring me to continue forward and showing me hope for the future.

Specific Safety Tips

  • Learn and follow local traditions and customs, especially regarding dress, gender relations and hospitality.
  • If possible, always travel with a partner or partners.
  • Avoid harassing/pestering individuals by evading eye contact, ignoring comments, moving away or engaging in conversation within your group.
  • Learn some words in the local language.  These might include thank you, please, hello, how much, no and yes.  Even speaking a little of the local language opens up possibilities for relationships and such relationships help create a safety net around you when you’re in the area.
  • Treat everyone with respect and openness; such behavior provides you better treatment and allows you to further enter into the community.
  • Use common sense when traveling by public transportation.  Never enter overcrowded matatus (buses), examine motorcycle drivers and their bikes carefully, and always determine the price of a ride before you get on.
  • Don’t stay out after dark.
  • Never tell someone where exactly you are headed.  Instead when asked, answer “around” or “in the area”
  • Trust yourself.  If you feel uncomfortable then remove yourself from the situation.
  • Don’t travel with valuables.
  • Use a bag that crosses over your body and that you can keep close.  Especially when in crowded areas stay aware of the position of your bag.
  • Keep a contact list for yourself while in country and provide a list of contacts for family and friends back in the US.  Set times when you will call back to the US just to say you’re okay.
  • It really helps to have a local cell phone, even if you only use it for emergencies.