Serving as an intensive care paramedic at the Queenstown branch of St John for two decades, Dianne Payne set off to Zanzibar for a month volunteering at a 700-bed public hospital. She talks to Miranda Cook about her experience
It was late at night when Dianne Payne arrived in Zanzibar, an island in a cluster of many in the Indian Ocean, about 35 kilometres off the East African coastline.
She was picked up at the airport by a driver and rapidly zipped along streets lined with shanty-town shacks and littered with potholes.
The intensive care paramedic, who’s dedicated her life to caring for others, expected to arrive at a house with 19 other volunteers.
Instead, the large house, protected by a gate and sometimes a guard, was empty.
After a night on edge and getting eaten by mosquitoes, clouds of doubt settled in – “I thought to myself, can I do this?”
But those clouds lifted the next morning when she was greeted by the sunny smiles of the people of Zanzibar, most of whom are dirt-poor, but rich in spirit.
“The people are just so sweet,” she tells Mountain Scene
A very well-paid, skilled worker would earn $US120 a month.
It was December last year when the mother-of-two started looking for a way to give back.
“I had travelled a lot in my life and am lucky enough to be given skills I thought could be useful.”
She chose Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, a 700-bed hospital armed with HIV and tuberculosis wards. For all of the island’s natural beauty and a centuries-old spice trade, poverty plagues the people – and the public hospital.
“Their basic care is third world; it’s developing but not very fast.”
She expected to put her skills to use “just by helping out” where possible.
But the hospital’s a training hub for student doctors and nurses, who complete their studies in English, and they quickly realised there was a lot they could learn from Payne.
Sadly, they weren’t short of patients to practise on.
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