Volunteer Story: From Loss to Hope in Zambia
Erica Tafadzwa Beta was born and raised in Mutare, Zimbabwe. She earned her MSc in Public Health and Health Promotion in the United Kingdom. Erica is a public health professional currently volunteering in Zambia. In this piece, she reveals how the loss of someone very important to her changed the course of her life forever.
I grew up in a happy home.
I was privileged in many ways.
For instance, I was able to attend school for longer than most and there were very few times during my childhood when I had to worry about what I would eat or how my school fees would be paid.
But then one morning something happened that threatened to change everything.
My father, who was the main breadwinner in my family, woke up with a headache. But there was something concerning about this particular headache – because normally my father wouldn’t complain. I remember he collapsed. He suffered a severe stroke and ended up in intensive care.
Two days later, as my family and I prepared to go to the hospital to visit him, the phone rang. It was one of those moments that you remember forever. That phone call that you wish you never had to answer. The person on the other end of the line told us that my father had died. I knew immediately that my life would never be the same.
For some time after his death, my family’s affairs spiraled downward.
At the age of 17, I realized just how important it is to have access to all basic needs; it happened when having that access was threatened. We were always lucky enough to have food and water, but other things I always took for granted suddenly started to be out of reach. For instance, at the time I could not pursue the undergraduate degree program I was interested in because I could not afford to go abroad to the university where it was offered. Before my dad died, this was not a question, education was always within reach.
Caught in this situation, I started to imagine what it must be like for a family who has nothing to eat, nor clean water to drink. People who struggle day after day to survive. The realization sank deep into my mind and heart. How devastating for parents to see their children suffering, unable to satisfy their hunger or quench their thirst. How sad to think of a child thrown out of school because they cannot afford the fees; to have their dreams shattered.
Eventually, I did make it to university. As a part of my undergraduate program in Health Services Management, I completed a one-year internship at a rural district hospital in Zimbabwe. While there, I had a chance to join program officers who delivered services within the district. One of the best parts of this experience was working together with community members and teams to come up with ideas on how we could help populations in need overcome the challenges and problems they experience.
As a health professional who has served in various facilities, I have seen too many people face limited treatment options because they lack the finances to access care from medical professionals. For this reason and with the goal of helping improve the lives of vulnerable populations, I knew I had to keep learning. I got accepted to a graduate level public health course in the United Kingdom and that started a whole new chapter in my life.
Moving from Africa to the UK and seeing all of the career opportunities in my field created a dilemma for me. I knew that once the program was over, I would have to decide whether I would remain in the UK and build my career and secure my future, or return to Africa where my job prospects were uncertain.
While I was still studying, I began applying for jobs in the UK and was fortunate to secure several interviews. However, as I went through the first and second round of interviews, I felt a stirring in my spirit. Rather than feeling excited, I felt a sense of sadness and uncertainty. I kept hearing a voice inside me, telling me that I should follow my calling; that I would find happiness if I did.
I knew I had a role to play in helping Africans in need, yet there I was in England, considering different opportunities, comparing tempting salaries and all the while ignoring my dreams. Africa has lost so many health professionals already, and there I was – ready to be a part of the “brain drain” on Africa.
In the end, the voice won. I decided I wanted to follow what I valued.
I applied to CMMB to serve as a volunteer in the role of a public health professional. I remember receiving the acceptance letter. Never had I felt so happy in my life. Being offered the opportunity to volunteer made me realize just how much my passion for helping the less fortunate had grown. And it did not matter the location. I wanted to help Africans. I want to help those in need.
Today I am a volunteer in the field of public health. Today I get the privilege of working with vulnerable mothers and children in Zambia. Every day I am living my dream