Adjusting in East Africa

NV chiropractor’s life changed by volunteering in Zanzibar

Apryl Leaf

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ON the legendary island of Zanzibar, a North Shore chiropractor found both a tropical paradise and a need among locals for preventative care.

Jabeen Jussa was born in Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, and moved with her parents to North Vancouver when she was only nine months old. She did not realize, however, that some day she would return to the East African coast to volunteer in doing chiropractic medicine and a whole lot more.

Jussa, who practises on the North Shore, got a letter telling her about a clinic run by a Victoria chiropractor and his wife who had built a house in the village of Jambiani, and while living there, came to realize the need for even simple remedies for the ravaged spines of local people.

This is her story:

Jambo! Habari? (Welcome! How are you?) are the first words you will hear as soon as you set foot on the soil of East Africa. Subsequently I learned that you respond by saying Salama (I am at peace).

In early January 2004, I ventured into a thrilling experience to a distant land, three continents away to Zanzibar, the famed land of spices, cashew nuts and coconuts.

It was my childhood desire to assist underprivileged people of Third World countries in any way I could. With that in view, I volunteered my services as a chiropractor to the Jambiani Wellness Centre on the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania, East Africa. I packed my bags, said goodbye to my family and friends and embarked on a three-month, life-changing adventure.

I landed in Zanzibar after two days of travelling. It was quite a change from the cold winters of Canada to the hot, sultry weather of Zanzibar. From Zanzibar airport, I travelled by car along a gravel bumpy road for 11/2 hours to Jambiani on the east coast of the island.

Visualize a cool gentle breeze from the warm aqua- blue Indian Ocean with the sounds of swaying coconut and banana trees, adorable African children playing soccer and the sound of ocean waves breaking as they crash onto the shore. These are the pleasant and soothing sounds I experienced every day at the Jambiani Wellness Centre where I spent nine weeks volunteering as a chiropractor.

The centre was established in 2001 by Victoria-based chiropractor, Alastair Pirie and his wife, Patricia Elias, a teacher.

The clinic is affiliated with Hands Across the Border Society (HABS) which renders a greatly needed service in this region of the world, treating and educating the local population on preventative health care. Many Canadian health-care practitioners such as chiropractors, massage therapists and nurses have volunteered their time and skills in achieving HABS’ goals.

My typical day in Jambiani would start at 6:30 a.m. with a one-hour walk along the powder-like sandy beaches. This was followed by a breakfast of deliciously sweet and locally grown fruits such as mangoes and papayas, and then off to the clinic to treat the hard-working residents of Zanzibar.

Many of the villagers do strenuous physical work, even past the age of 80, resulting in chronic low back and neck pain. Most of the local women harvest seaweed for which they bend at the waist for long hours with poor body posture, and the men also strain their backs working as fishermen or in construction.

On a regular day, we would treat 25 to 30 patients from Jambiani, the surrounding villages and from as far away as the mainland of Tanzania. Some of the patients would commute two

to three hours, either by foot or local bus to receive the health-care treatments provided by the centre.

At any one time there might be up to 15 patients in line, quietly waiting for their treatment.

People at the clinic treat such common ailments as arthritis, low back and leg pain as well as neck and upper back complaints. Many of these symptoms are a consequence of heavy repetitive work and neck compression caused by carrying heavy loads of water pails or wood on their head and shoulders for miles. Many of the local patients were and are still being prescribed anti-inflammatory medications and analgesics to treat conditions.

But in addition to rendering chiropractic treatment, we also educated the patients on basic exercises for both their joints and muscles, encouraged them to drink more water and to include more fruits and vegetables into their carbohydrate-rich diet.

We were so happy to see that the patients followed our advice. Not only did they respond enthusiastically to our chiropractic treatments, they also tried to adhere to advice on body postures and nutrition.

Interestingly for me, many cases that we treated are not typically presented in a chiropractor’s office here. For example, I treated many children with neurological complications due to uncontrolled fevers, post malaria complications, congenital spine and knee deformities, children with cerebral palsy and respiratory conditions – all with amazing results. Before being seen by us they had little or no medical help available to them.

Ironically, the locals face similar health concerns as we do in the West. Diabetes, hypertension and obesity are quite prevalent in Zanzibar due mainly to a high carbohydrate diet. The local meals are mostly prepared from rice, cassava root, potatoes and tasty coconut curries, which are delicious but fattening.

Unfortunately, they do not have the knowledge or the resources with which we are privileged. HABS is endeavouring to fill this gap to alleviate health concerns and improve the lifestyle of the local population.

For me, these experiences were eye opening and humbling, both professionally and personally. It was really gratifying to see improvements in the patients’ general health conditions and day-to-day lifestyles. Even though I volunteered my skills to provide the much-needed health care, the real rewards I have received from this journey are invaluable.

The nine weeks I spent in Jambiani has forever changed my perspective on humanity and the need for such voluntary services to the underprivileged people of the world. You can never walk away from such an experience without your heart and soul being touched forever. It is my ardent desire that I will be able to render similar voluntary services in the future.