Namibia Medical Volunteer - Rural Bushman Clinic

Namibia

Contribute to the medical and social welfare of the remote San community in Namibia and experience unspoilt African wilderness. Assist the resident doctor and nurse to provide primary healthcare to the local community.

You will provide hands-on support at this remote clinic and dispensary in Eastern Namibia and work closely with patients from the local San community. Learn about their way of life, the diseases affecting them and give care to people living in extreme poverty. While this project is great for those with some medical experience or students, if you are interested in working for a humanitarian cause, no medical knowledge is required and your help will still be very valuable.

The marginalised San Bushman community is one of the oldest cultures in the world. Many communities now live in extreme poverty and survive on USD$0.60 per day. Medical and humanitarian volunteers are always needed to support the resident Doctor and Nurses at the clinic and contribute to outreach clinics in local schools and villages. Volunteers may also get involved with training Community Health Workers to learn new first aid skills and healthcare techniques for them to impart to their communities.

You will be a key member of the team providing care to the local community and, depending on your experience and background, can expect to undertake basic clinical skills, history taking and patient examinations as well as obstetrics, family planning and counselling, all with the support of local translators. Those with no medical experience will support healthcare workers within communities and perform basic medical procedures such as temperature taking.

WHY CHOOSE THIS PROJECT?

Be part of the team caring for the marginalised and poverty-stricken San Bushman Community. Work in the clinic supporting the busy medical team and provide outreach services in rural villages and farms.

Quick Facts

Who can join: Volunteers from 18 years
How long can I stay for: 2 weeks - 12 weeks
Accommodation: Volunteer / Staff house (twin rooms)
Transfer time: 4-5 hours
Pick up from: Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary
Meals: 3 meals a day included
Project numbers: 1-4
Start dates: Every other Sunday (please arrive in Windhoek no later than the day before)
How much: from $1,395

Background

The clinic was set up in 2003 by the founders of the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary, who saw first-hand the marginalisation and poor treatment of the rural San Bushman and decided to do something to improve the health needs of this community. They joined together with a pharmacist friend who donated medicines, and they began running informal rural clinics. It became evident that they would need a facility to operate a permanent clinic.

The medical clinic is dedicated to the health and welfare of the San Bushman community, considered to be one of the oldest cultures on the world, who are traditional hunter-gatherers. They have been forced from their original lands leaving them virtually unable to survive in their traditional lifestyle. They are often treated as second class citizens and most live in extreme poverty.

The clinic treats around 3,500 patients a year through its remote clinic base and rural outreach clinic. 80% of the patients are San and the remainder Herero and Damara speaking Namibians. Approximately 40% of patients are children and 70% of those under 5 years old. TB and HIV are prevalent and many of the adults suffer from problems associated with long-term alcohol abuse. Children often die due to untreated minor ailments such as worms, diarrhoea, dehydration and fungal infections.

The San’s per capita income is the lowest of all language groups in Namibia. A lack of education amongst adults means skilled employment is near impossible to obtain and historical prejudices mean many are turned away from unskilled jobs. Many parents cannot afford to send their children to school and some schools refuse to enrol San children, thereby continuing the lack of opportunities for skills development in the younger generation. The health status of San is undoubtedly linked to their low socio-economic status and the San life expectancy is 22% lower than the national average, at just 48 years.

Discrimination, social stigmatisation and prejudice make it extremely difficult for this community to elevate themselves out of poverty and can create a cycle of marginalisation across generations.

Highlights

As a humanitarian and medical volunteer, you will work alongside the permanent doctor and nurse and learn about the common diseases affecting the local population and how to treat them. Give care to patients living in extreme poverty and make a different in this stunning remote location. Non-medical professionals will assist in the dispensary and in the office, plus work on community feeding programmes and perform basic medical tasks.

  • Receive training on basic clinical skills and examinations
  • Professional volunteers will run consultations and assist with outreach work in the remote villages around the clinic
  • Opportunities for research work for personal interest and to benefit the clinic and patients
  • Assist staff with daily duties such as primary healthcare, observations, tending to wounds and in the pharmacy
  • Help in the community with family planning and substance abuse counselling
  • Work with the nurse in the local community carrying out basic procedures
  • Help with community feeding programmes
  • An opportunity to work on your own initiative and help individuals outside of your clinical skills
  • Make a real difference to the lives of the San Bushman as you provide medical and humanitarian assistance to those most in need
  • Support community development projects such as the Bushman Co-operative 
  • A real hands-on medical and community development volunteer programme where you can see first-hand the impact you are having


What sort of things will I be doing?

Depending on your medical skills and experience your daily duties may include:

GP Clinics:
The clinic is a free medical centre open five days a week catering for the mainly rural San communities in eastern Namibia. There are approximately 7,000 patients registered at the clinic of which 5,500 are San. Medical volunteers support the doctors with the assistance of local translators.

Student medical volunteers will receive training on basic clinical skills, history taking and patient examinations. Trained and professional volunteers will run consultations with patients and assist during outreach work. Those without medical training will also be put to good use in essential support roles and learn how to do basic record-taking.

Your duties at the clinic may include:

  • Primary healthcare - observations, patient reassurance, treatments and emergency referrals
  • Observations, pregnancy tests and urine testing plus recording results
  • Weighing babies and recording growth charts
  • Blood pressure and glucose testing and recording
  • Working in the pharmacy with stock control, inventory and ordering
  • Record keeping, budgeting and data capture
  • Family planning and substance abuse counselling

Outreach clinics:

Only 20% of patients come from the main town so many patients have a difficult journey to see the doctor. For many with children or mobility problems, the up to 100km journey is just not possible.

  • Join doctors on monthly outreach clinics to six locations
  • Provide accessible medical care
  • Provide medical care via outreach clinics to rural schools where you will treat chest infections, diarrhoea, scalp infections and sometimes TB
  • Give nutritional supplements and vitamins to young children

Clinic projects:

  • General maintenance and cleaning
  • Working on non-medical clinic projects such as the vegetable garden

Research projects:
Depending on the length of your volunteer programme, volunteers may be encouraged to undertake a research assignment to assist the clinics long term planning. Examples of current projects include:
- TB research
The clinic is developing a research programme to find patients with TB and improve their treatment and compliance. The incidence of TB in the San community is 8 times greater than the rest of the population due in part to their poor diet and living conditions and slow diagnosis.

- Bushman Co-operative
The local San population do not eat every day because their daily income of roughly US$0.60 was not enough to buy food. The clinic has developed a local co-operative and are training the community in book keeping, risk prevention and business management - including the importance of making a profit! The San have a naturally altruistic and sharing culture which can lead to failure in a co-operative - too much sharing is bad for profits!

- Community Health worker Programme
The clinic encourages people to take responsibility for their own healthcare and has trained 9 local women how to identify TB and collect sputum, recognise and treat pneumonia and diarrhoea and how to treat burns and wounds. The clinic visits the local Community Health Worker every month to check their log book, discuss problems and teach new skills.

- Poverty-related healthcare problems
The majority of patients have typical ailments found in most clinics but as a result their neglect as a community and severe poverty, the San suffer from high levels of alcohol abuse, rape and assaults. TB also accounts for nearly 50% of adult deaths. Common diseases amongst child patients include fungal infections, worms, diarrhoea, dehydration, malnutrition and mouth infections. The clinic also provides nutritional supplements to young children to ensure they receive the vitamins and minerals they need to develop physically.

Details

Do I need any experience to volunteer on this programme?

You do not have to be a healthcare professional to volunteer on this programme, but do need to have a passion and interest in humanitarian work. There is plenty of work to be done which does not require any medical experience. The project has taken volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds: 

  • Healthcare professionals: doctors, nurses and allied health professionals e.g. pharmacists, physiotherapists, optometrists, occupational therapists and paramedics
  • Other professionals: e.g. gardeners, engineers, plumbers, architects, painters and decorators, joiners, teachers, statisticians and data analysts
  • Students: e.g. medical and nursing students, as well as those who are thinking of applying for a healthcare professional career
  • Non-healthcare workers who are interested in humanitarian and community work

Although it is true to say that ‘the more experience you have, the better’ — what is more important than your qualifications and experience is your attitude and approach to life. We are looking for volunteers who are self-motivated; flexible; able to work both independently and in a team; patient, kind and considerate; able to cope with setbacks; and of course have sense of humour!

What's a typical week?

The clinic is open from 08:00-13:00 and 14:30-17:00 from Monday to Friday. During that time you will treat people that come to the clinic, do blood pressure and glucose testing, provide family planning and give childhood immunisations.

In addition, most weeks you will also get involved with:

  • An outreach clinic at a school, farm or village
  • Run a Mother and Baby afternoon
  • Take sick patients into Gobabis hospital
  • Visit San communities in villages and farms to screen for TB

On non-transfer weekends there might be a small shopping trip to the next town, Gobabis. On transfer weekends where you are not leaving, you may be able to go with the vehicle and go into Windhoek, or you might stay behind with the nurse and other volunteers and there is always something to do around the house and village.

How do I get to the project?

Included in your programme price is a Sunday transfer from the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary, just outside Windhoek, to the clinic - a journey of approximately 4-5 hours.

Please book your flights to arrive at Windhoek Hosea Kutako Airport. Transfers from Windhoek Airport to the Sanctuary are also included. We recommend you arrive on the Saturday before at the latest as transfers are early on a Sunday morning.

You will overnight on the final Friday night at the Sanctuary, prior to your departure on the Saturday. We do not recommend booking your flights for the Friday you return from the clinic, as it is a long drive and we cannot guarantee you will make it to the airport in good time to catch your flight.

All accommodation is included in the project price.

Rates & Dates

When can I volunteer?

Volunteers will be transferred to the clinic on alternate Sundays (please see below for start dates). Volunteers must arrive into Namibia the day before at the latest, or can arrive earlier if you wish to spend time volunteering at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary, which is the pick-up point for transfers to the clinic. The work which the Sanctuary does in the rescue and rehabilitation of animals is amazing and is a good introduction to Namibia and its wildlife and environment!

Transfers to and from Windhoek Hosea Kutako Airport are included in the project price as is overnight accommodation on the Saturday night before your transfer, and the Friday night upon your return from the clinic.  

The latest you should arrive into Windhoek is the Saturday before (the day before) your Medical Programme starts, as transfers leave at 0900 on Sunday morning. You should book your return flight home no earlier than the day after your Medical Programme ends. You are of course welcome to spend time volunteering at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary before or after your Medical Programme. The cost for spending additional time at the Sanctuary is US $100 per day or $695 per full additional week.

Project dates 2018:

You may choose any Sunday start date and any Friday departure date. The minimum stay is 2 weeks - including one night before and one night after the project at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary. 

Transfers: Sanctuary - Clinic
(Sundays)
Transfers: Clinic - Sanctuary /
Windhoek (Fridays)
 
1st July 2018 13th July 2018 Project full
15th July 2018 27th July 2018 Project full
29th July 2018 10th August 2018  
12th August 2018 24th August 2018 Project full
26th August 2018 7th September 2018  
9th September 2018 21st September 2018  
23rd September 2018 5th October 2018  
7th October 2018 19th October 2018 Project full
21st October 2018 2nd November 2018 Project full
4th November 2018 16th November 2018  
18th November 2018 30th November 2018  
2nd December 2018 14th December 2018  


Project pricing 2018:

2 weeks: $1,395
4 weeks: $2,595
6 weeks: $3,895
8 weeks: $4,995
10 weeks: $5,995
12 weeks: $6,995

What does the cost include?

  • Programme fee - financing which goes back into the programme you are involved with; this includes funding for equipment, supplies, vehicles and foodstuffs etc
  • Transfers from Windhoek Hosea Kutako Airport to the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary 
  • Transfers from the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary to the clinic on alternate Sundays
  • Transfers from the clinic to the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary returning on alternate Fridays
  • One night accommodation at the Sanctuary prior to and after your clinic programme, plus accommodation at the clinic (includes towels and bedding)
  • Three meals per day
  • Full 24 hour support and training from your programme co-ordinators during your stay
  • All programme-related transport and equipment required to do your work

The programme cost excludes:

  • Flights to Windhoek
  • Transfers to the clinic outside of a Sunday or Friday listed above (transfers can be arranged for an additional N$2,500)
  • *Visas fees - all volunteers must apply for a work permit (we will help organise this for you) - the cost is around N$960
  • Any personal items such as alcoholic drinks, snacks, additional food or souvenirs
  • Personal medical and travel insurance, which must cover the entire duration of your programme and should include cover for repatriation, air evacuation and any activities you may undertake or plan to undertake
  • Any additional trips outside the volunteer programme
  • Snacks and alcoholic drinks
  • $40 per person booking fee

View our booking terms and conditions

*Visas take approximately 8 weeks to organise - please remember this when making your booking!

Accommodation

The clinic house has six bedrooms, an open plan kitchen and living room, one bathroom and one shower room. It is home for the doctors and nurse that run the clinic. There are two volunteer rooms each with two single beds, bed-side table and lamp, and some drawers for storing clothes/personal items. Bedding is provided and towels are available if required. A single room may be available - please enquire when booking.

There is running water (hot and cold), electricity, phone signal and a good internet connection most, but not all, of the time.

Prolonged power cuts are not uncommon (particularly during the rainy season) and during these there is no internet connection, no phone signal and sometimes no running water (the pump to the bore hole is powered by mains electricity). The house and clinic have a reverse osmosis water filtration system and this is backed up by 25 litre water containers that are filled in Windhoek or at the Wildlife Sanctuary. Electricity is 220 Volts and the main socket type is earthed with three pins (as used in South Africa). Please bring plug adaptors so you can charge mobile phones and cameras.

Food for three meals a day is provided. The food shopping is usually done in Gobabis on a Sunday on the way from Windhoek to the clinic. Volunteers are responsible for preparing their own breakfast and lunch. Doctors, nurse and volunteers generally eat the evening meal together and EVERYONE is expected to take their turn in preparing this.
If you have never learnt to cook, you should learn how to prepare one or two simple meals that can be made from every-day ingredients (e.g. spaghetti bolognaise) before leaving home. Encouragement, support and advice will be available if required!

There is a washing machine in the clinic which volunteers are welcome to use. Washing powder is provided.  

The clinic is covered by Namibia’s main network provider, MTC, but some of the remote villages you may visit during your time here may not have reception. It is worth considering buying a local SIM card to insert in your phone during your visit. You can then phone purchase ‘International bundles’ from MTC that will enable you to phone home very reasonably. If you plan to do this, you will need to get your phone unlocked before you leave. You can buy a local SIM card at the airport for NAD 10.

Reviews

"My 6 weeks have been immensely enjoyable and something that I cherish for years to come. Arriving fresh faced and not knowing what to expect, I was warmly welcomed by everyone at the clinic. I quickly found myself helping out with every aspect of the clinic; some of which I had not initially thought of. This was typified by spending a few days up on the roof doing cladding for the water pipes. After a few failed attempts, the water pipes have now stopped freezing!

The theme of water also arose in helping the San with their water crisis. They had their water shut off since May due to not paying the bill; due to the water tap being controlled by one individual. Therefore I helped Dr Ian organize a Water committee and a basic business model to collect payment. Though we made a few mistakes in the calculations of the unit cost, this was down to the water board charging around 20x their actual water consumption a week…

On the medical sides of things tuberculosis is the main non-routine diagnosis arriving at the clinic. It is poignant and a travesty to think that TB kills approximately 50% of San adults. This is because treatment is free and effective. The reason for this is in part due to the difficulty of detecting the pathogen and the problem of supplying the drugs to the nomadic like San. As a result I helped Dr Ian set up a TB project. This project involved designing a questionnaire and then a protocol for confirming the diagnosis. Though in its early stages, this promises to produce a huge impact in the San community; a community that I consider to have the highest TB incidence in the world." Read more...

John Douglas Wylde, August 2014
Namibia Medical Volunteer

"There will be as many opinions on how to help the Bushman as there are interested individuals wanting to help and there are no easy answers. What the clinic in Pos 3 provides is ongoing medical treatment to the Bushman at a standard that they would often miss out on. This is due either to the poor accessibility of healthcare in such remote areas or dismissive attitudes they encounter when they do seek help from State run clinics.

In my two weeks here what I have seen is that the clinic is able to provide simple frontline general practice care for the Bushman but importantly to pick up and help manage serious life threatening cases or neglected health conditions which can become life threatening. The two doctors presently based here do everything possible to have these cases treated, by visiting them in their huts, driving them to hospital, talking to relatives, talking to specialists, other doctors in the hospitals to advocate for their right to be cared for appropriately and not dismissed." Read more...

Cherry Wu, July 2014
Medical Volunteer, Namibia

Destination

Volunteering in Namibia

Namibia is a place of contrasts - from vibrant, colourful cities to the immense desert scenery, mountains and ocean. It is characterised by vast open spaces, breathtaking scenery and has a rich cultural history and some of Africa’s most stunning and unique landscapes. With its looming red sand dunes, the turbulent Orange River, a variety of adventure activities, traditional towns, deep canyons and spectacular bronze sunsets, Namibia is a travellers dream.

Namibia is perfect for travellers looking for unspoilt wilderness areas, 300 days a year of perfect sunshine and a huge variety of wildlife. Its name is taken from the 80 million year old Namib Desert which makes up more than 10% of the country - Namib means “vast” in the local Nama language. With a stable infrastructure, travel around the country is easy and getting off the beaten track into deserted wildlife areas can be done with confidence.

Sossusvlei Dunes are home to the highest sand dunes in the world and Namibia’s most outstanding scenic attraction. Part of the Namib Desert, these dunes have developed over millions of years, the wind continuously shifting the sand further and further inland, reshaping patterns in distinctive warm tints. Climbing to the top of one of these dunes provides breathtaking views of the whole area, including Deadvlei, a large ghostly expanse of dried white clay punctuated by skeletons of ancient camelthorn trees, carbon dated between 500-600 years old.

Etosha National Park is Namibia’s first conservation area, designated in 1907. Undoubtedly one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth and one of Africa’s best game reserves, Etosha is home to huge herds of elephant, black-maned lions, cheetah and the world’s largest population of the rare black rhino.  Etosha owes its unique landscape to the Etosha Pan, a vast shallow depression of approximately 1,930 square miles which forms the heart of the park. Once part of a large inland lake fed by rivers from the north and east, it dried up 120 million years ago as continental drift changed the slope of the land and the course of the tributaries. This white, chalky expanse colours the park, and with the waterholes, creates the characteristic atmosphere of the Etosha of today.

To the west of Khorixas in North-West Namibia is Twyfelfontein, a massive open-air art gallery carved into red rock by ancient Bushmen overlooking an expansive valley below. The engravings, some estimated to be 6,000 years old, record the wildlife seen in area - giraffe, rhino, elephants, ostrich and even a lion. It is believed that the creators incised their engravings as a means of entering the supernatural world and recording their shamanic experience among the spirits. Whatever the meaning, the site was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008.

Swakopmund is Namibia’s playground - a holiday haven away from the dusty heat of the interior. While there is plenty to do within the city, the real action takes place in the desert surrounding the town. Quad-biking, sand-boarding, sand-skiing, parasailing and other adrenaline actives are available from any of the adventure operators in the area. Visit Walvis Bay and join a dolphin cruise or explore the lagoon on a kayak.

What will the weather be like?

During the Namibian summer (October - March) temperatures average 30°c and often go to over 40°c. Volunteers should bring light cotton clothing, a wide-brimmed hat or cap, polarised sunglasses, a water bottle, plenty of high factor sunscreen (and after-sun!), strong mosquito spray and closed shoes. A light waterproof jacket is also essential for sudden downpours! Average lows are around 17-20°c. Summer is an amazing time of year where you can watch thunderstorms approach from miles away and witness incredible electric storms and light shows!

During winter (April - August) daytime temperatures average 25-27°c with no rainfall at all. Temperatures during the night and in the mornings and evenings regularly go below 0°c and volunteers are advised to bring lots of layers including fleeces and a warm hat with a wide-brimmed hat or cap and loose light clothing for daytime.

Project Gallery - Namibia Medical Volunteer - Rural Bushman Clinic

Testimonials

Namibia Medical Volunteer - Rural Bushman Clinic My 6 weeks have been immensely enjoyable and something that I cherish for years to come. Arriving fresh faced and not knowing what to expect, I was warmly welcomed by everyone at the clinic. I quickly found myself helping out with every aspect of the clinic; some of which I had not initially thought of. This was typified by spending a few days up on the roof doing cladding for the water pipes. After a ... John Douglas Wylde, UK Read More
Namibia Medical Volunteer - Rural Bushman Clinic There will be as many opinions on how to help the Bushman as there are interested individuals wanting to help and there are no easy answers. What the clinic in Pos 3 provides is ongoing medical treatment to the Bushman at a standard that they would often miss out on. This is due either to the poor accessibility of healthcare in such remote areas or dismissive attitudes they encounter when they do seek help from ... Cherry W, Australia Read More

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