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A family trip they'll never forget: Canadian donors travel to Tanzania

The Willis family with new friends from the clinic

The Willis family with their new friends from the clinic.

As a child, Canadian Jennifer Bermingham’s relatives had sparked her imagination by sharing stories of their home in Tanzania. As she grew up, her interest in the country grew into a desire to understand it first-hand.

A long-time Plan Canada donor, Jennifer recently decided to travel to Tanzania with her husband Andy and their two daughters Hannah, 17, and Rachel, 15, to see how their donations were helping other families.

They returned from their trip, more inspired than ever and eager to share their life-changing story, in the hopes of inspiring others – like you.

Seeing through a new lens

Escorted by Plan staff and local government officials, the Willis family visited a renovated and expanded Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) centre. Upon arrival, they noticed a cluster of women waiting to have their children vaccinated.

Women gather outside vaccination centre.

“It was so exciting to arrive and see that group of women outside the clinic and think, how many more women like them are going to make their way through this clinic and have their lives fundamentally changed?”

Jennifer and her family were thrilled “to actually see, understand, and really feel and experience the impact of everything Plan’s doing” and the excitement radiating from the community members they met.

“These people doing the work are all so proud of what they are able to accomplish.”

Here, Jennifer shares a few examples of new resources she and her family saw during their trip that are changing lives:

  • New ambulances and shelters

     / New ambulances and shelters: “Many of these women are currently travelling 6 hours on the back of a bike or by foot to get to the clinic, so having an ambulance is going to make an enormous difference. The boat ambulances from Plan’s Gifts of Hope are also helping bring people across Lake Victoria, from villages on islands and fishing towns that have no roads.”

  • Birthing centre

     / Autoclave and birthing centre: A new autoclave helps sterilize medical equipment to prevent infection. “The new birthing centre is so bright and clean – a huge change.”

  • New operating theatre

     / Operating theatre: The operating theatre will help them properly address the region’s high birth complication rates. “Cesarean deliveries are now something they are able to do, which they weren’t able to do with confidence in the past.”

  • Doctor with water tank

     / <Water tower: “It’s one thing to see a water tower in pictures, and another to see the pride on the face of this gentleman when he told us about it and explained: ‘This is what you’ve done, what Plan has been able to raise for us.’”;

Building more than a clinic
The Willis family chats with locals.

The family and locals split into smaller groups to chat. “Plan is really creating a huge sense of hope in the places where it works,” shares Jennifer

The Willis family was impressed with the level of community involvement – a critical factor in the success and sustainability of any project. But they also learned that several local men not only refuse to support the clinic, but get in the way of women wishing to attend.

Reasons for this can vary from a preference for traditional healers, to views that preventative care (such as prenatal visits and infant check-ups) is not a priority – opting, instead, to only use their scarce family resources for travel to health centres during emergencies.

Plan community volunteers aim to overcome this by spreading vital health awareness messages among women, their male partners, and community leaders – opening lines of communication and establishing trust. And so far, it’s working.

Well-respected community leaders like the local healer have acknowledged the benefits of the centre, which is “a powerful testament to the potential and future of this clinic,” notes Jennifer. Men have also been actively promoting the clinic and encouraging other men to support it as well.

Thanks to this support, local women now notice a dramatic difference in the way women and children are viewed and valued by men.

“Important cultural shifts are afoot as a result of the health clinics,” Jennifer explains.

Brighter futures across borders

Before returning home, the Willis’ received a special message from the clinic’s head doctor to bring home and share: “We thank the Canadians for their donations to help pregnant mothers and newborns be born safe, and thanks to the Canadian people.”

Jennifer and her family were amazed by the extent of local recognition of the contributions by Canadians, not to mention proud.

“It changed the way I understood the role of Plan there, along with the Canadian Government. I came to appreciate that this is really about a very powerful societal change within that country that is widely recognized and embraced,” she said.

Since returning from Tanzania, Jennifer and her family frequently reflect on the transformative experience and the many perspectives and lives this project helped change – including their own.

“Imagine the difference between having a baby in a hut versus getting down to that clinic and having your baby in a beautifully sterile environment, and being able to get the shots your baby needs to start life on the right foot with all the access to healthcare,” Jennifer marvels.

Before and after photographs of health clinic

Before and after: as opposed to giving birth in their huts (pictured at left), women in this Tanzanian community now have the option to attend the new health clinic (pictured at right).

And now, thanks to Plan Canada partners and donors like the Willis family, the women and families of this community no longer have to imagine.