Summer of Transformation: My Journey to Volunteer in Mozambique

Subodh Thallada

Copyright 2023 by Subodh Thallada

Winner of the  2023 Travel Nonfiction Contest
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

My journey to Mozambique as a Service Delivery System Officer with the United Nations was nothing short of an extraordinary adventure, filled with challenges, personal growth, and unforgettable experiences. The summer of 2023 marked the beginning of a transformative chapter in my life, one that would test my limits, strengthen my resolve, and broaden my horizons in ways I could never have imagined.

The anticipation leading up to my departure was palpable. I had applied for this incredible opportunity to volunteer with the UN, specifically the World Health Organization (WHO), in the beautiful coastal country of Mozambique. As a Canadian high school student, I felt incredibly fortunate to have been chosen for this role, given the title of "Service Delivery System Officer." My task was to work under the guidance of the WHO Representative and contribute to the re-pivoting of service delivery systems in Cabo Delgado Province. The Sustainable Development Goal I was focused on was "Good health and well-being," and it was an area where I was eager to make a difference.

My journey began on a crisp morning in Canada, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I didn't have the funds to cover my flight to Mozambique, but my determination to volunteer with the UN was unwavering. After a heartfelt conversation with an executive at WHO, I managed to convince them of my dedication to the cause. They generously agreed to cover my flight expenses, motivating me even further to give my all to this unique opportunity.

The plane ride to Mozambique was an adventure in itself, crossing oceans and continents, and taking me to a world I had only read about in books and seen in documentaries. The moment I landed in Pemba, the vibrant city in Cabo Delgado Province, I was immediately struck by the tropical heat and the lush landscapes surrounding me. The air was thick with the promise of a life-changing experience, and I couldn't wait to get started.

My new home in Mozambique was a world away from the comforts of Canada, but it held its own charm. Maputo, the capital city, offered comfortable living conditions with easy access to amenities like electricity, internet, water, banking services, and various food products. The climate was tropical, hot, and humid, with the rain season falling between October and April. The winters were mild, providing some respite from the scorching heat. While the country was linked to the world through regular air connections, medical facilities were somewhat limited, and communication and transport services varied in cost.

As I settled into my new surroundings, the sense of purpose grew within me. I was here to make a difference, to contribute to the re-pivoting of service delivery systems in Cabo Delgado Province. My role was multifaceted, and the tasks I was assigned were both challenging and rewarding. Under the guidance of the WHO Representative and other senior experts, I embarked on a mission to enhance essential health packages, explore various service delivery models, and lead the implementation of digital health solutions. These initiatives aimed to expand service provision capacity and ultimately improve the health and well-being of the local population.

My work often took me to remote villages and communities, where I witnessed the determination and resilience of the Mozambican people. Community delivery modalities, primary care facilities, and specialized hospitals were all part of the puzzle I was helping to solve. I was amazed by the commitment of the local healthcare professionals, who worked tirelessly to provide quality care in the face of various challenges.

One of the most remarkable aspects of my experience was the integration of digital health solutions. We introduced technology to streamline healthcare services and reach remote areas. The positive impact was evident as we connected underserved communities with life-saving information and resources.

In addition to my professional responsibilities, I had the privilege of working with local leaders and communities to define and implement integrated service delivery interventions. This included setting up licensure and accreditation systems, supervision and mentoring processes, service standards, and health charters that described user rights. Quality assurance, therapeutic standards, care audits, and infection prevention and control were also on our agenda.

The comprehensive primary healthcare (PHC) approach and person-centered care approach were central to our strategies. We aimed to ensure that healthcare was not only accessible but also tailored to the unique needs of each individual.

Throughout my time in Mozambique, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the local culture. The Republic of Mozambique is a diverse and vibrant country, and its people were incredibly welcoming. I had the chance to learn about their rich history, sample delicious traditional cuisine, and even pick up some basic phrases in the local languages.

Life in Mozambique wasn't without its challenges. I faced the occasional language barrier and had to adapt to different customs and norms. The conditions could be physically demanding, but my determination and commitment to the mission kept me going. I learned to be flexible and to appreciate the simple joys of life.

As the months passed, I saw the impact of our work in the community. Improved healthcare access and services were transforming lives, and the resilience of the local healthcare system was growing. The progress we made, the lives we touched, and the friendships I forged with fellow volunteers and locals were immeasurable rewards.

The journey was not without moments of doubt and homesickness. Being far from home, in a land so different from what I was accustomed to, brought about its share of challenges. But it was precisely those challenges that pushed me to grow, to become more resilient, and to appreciate the diversity of the world we live in.

In the end, the summer that began with uncertainty transformed into a life-changing adventure. My time as a Service Delivery System Officer in Mozambique, working alongside the WHO and the UN, was a testament to the power of determination and the human spirit's capacity to make a positive impact. I left Mozambique with a profound sense of fulfillment and a wealth of experiences that I will carry with me throughout my life.

This journey was more than a volunteer opportunity; it was a journey of personal growth, cultural immersion, and making a tangible difference in the world. I returned to Canada with a heart full of gratitude and a renewed commitment to contributing to global health and well-being. My time in Mozambique will forever be etched in my memory as the summer that changed my life.

I'm Subodh Thallada, a high school senior residing in Toronto, Canada. Currently, I'm a student at Georges Vanier Secondary School and a participant in the STEM+ program. My interests span a wide spectrum, from a deep appreciation for nature and a knack for photography to a strong passion for engineering. While I plan to pursue engineering as my major, there's an undeniable longing to explore the world of writing, with an ultimate dream of publishing a book someday. Unfortunately, my recent immigration from India to Canada has posed certain challenges that have limited my opportunities to write and publish. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful and committed to fulfilling my aspirations in the future.

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