Flying High in Tanzania

Intern Helps Treat Masai Villagers

Published: Jul 7, 2011
Xela Steenberge ’12 said her internship in Tanzania was both academically and personally fulfilling.
Xela Steenberge ’12 said her internship in Tanzania was both academically and personally fulfilling.
Xela Steenberge accompanied the flying medical services team for its twice-weekly trip to rural Tanzanian villages.
Xela Steenberge accompanied the flying medical services team for its twice-weekly trip to rural Tanzanian villages.
Treating patients in rural Tanzania was eye-opening for Xela Steenberge ’12, an exercise science major with a concentration in allied health. She spent June observing physical and occupational therapists at work in a hospital in Arusha and accompanying medical flights to rural Masai villages.

“It is phenomenal just to get this experience,” Steenberge said. “It’s life-changing.”

Steenberge first started thinking about this opportunity when she found out her father, Patrick Steenberge, former quarterback for the University of Notre Dame, would be helping to host the first football game in Africa with his company Global Football. The UT senior spent the last two weeks in May helping her dad with the game in Arusha, and then spent June doing her internship.

“It was way different than anything I have ever experienced, and eye opening,” said Steenberge, a member’s of UT swim team.

She spent time observing the hospital’s one full-time physical therapist, who performed a broad range of duties for all the patients. She also accompanied the flying medical services team for its twice-weekly trip to rural villages.

Landing on dirt runways in a four-person airplane, Steenberge made her way to the outlying clinics. She huddled inside mud huts to watch the pilot vaccinate and weigh babies and children while a clinical officer met with sick patients and administered medicine.

“I was most impressed with how tough the women in the villages were,” said Steenberge of Granbury, TX. “They make everything by hand, so when one of the beds we used needed mending, five of these pregnant women went out to gather grass blades and twigs, weaving the bed together and mending the holes.

“Some of these women would be eight months pregnant, with another child on their back, and still be able to help carry our medical equipment from the plane,” Steenberge said. “We would ask some of the women their age, and they would be 16 years old and some pregnant, with others hoping to be pregnant.”

Steenberge and a medical student from New Zealand would examine the pregnant women for abnormalities and listen for the baby’s heartbeat, all while speaking in broken Kiswahili to the Masai women.

“The experience was incredible. We were speaking Kiswahili to our best ability to women who speak mainly KiMaasai which made it difficult but quite an experience,” Steenberge said. “They would laugh at us for our pronunciations of words, and we would be laughing because we would struggle to spell their names correctly or to find out their medical history.”

After one of the visits, Steenberge said she and the medical student had finished their work early so sat outside the hut to get some fresh air. A few of the Masai approached the girls, wanting to feel their arms and hair and to compare their skin.

“They were fascinated at the idea we had hair on our arms, and our pale skin,” said Steenberge, grateful for the internship experience, both academically as well as personally.

“The internship sparked an interest for me in how one individual could make a difference in a developing health care system,” she said, adding that an internship abroad immerses the intern in the relationships and the lifestyle of those they are serving.

She said the hands-on experience introduced her to different fields of interest and also showed her how physical therapy could be used in other aspects of health care such as hospice.

“The greatest aspect of my internship was being able to meet so many people who have devoted themselves to making a difference in the world to people who truly need them,” she said. 
 

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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