MONTEREY -- Monterey resident Wendy Tryon enjoys traveling with her friends and fellow registered nurses, Linda van Werkhooven and Gail Roberts. In the past, they traveled together to resorts in places like Hawaii.

Tryon was less than thrilled, however, when her colleagues suggested a safari in Tanzania, East Africa.

"It just didn't seem like my thing," Tryon said.

In March 2007, in loyalty to her friends, she found herself on an airplane heading more than 7,000 miles south of the Berkshires.

During her first few days there, Tryon had a change of heart.

"It was much more than going out to the Serengeti and seeing the animals," she said.

She and her travel mates and guides stopped in towns along the way to the parks and saw rural homes, villages that looked like tented camps. And they met the Iraqw, members of one of the oldest ethnic groups of the region. They also stopped to visit a few hospitals.

"It was kind of shocking to see beds out in the halls, multiple patients in the beds, no mosquito netting, a limited lab, and basic X-ray technology. It was kind of jolting to see in the 21st century. We were just in total shock that it was this way," Tryon said.

"The clinics were very poorly staffed, (and had) very few materials," said Werkhooven of Blandford during an interview earlier this month with WGBY's television show, "Connecting Point." Werkhooven was traveling at the time that this article was written.

Nursing in Tanzania

By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff

The Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre sits in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. According to its website, Kilimanjaro Christian is a referral hospital for more than 11 million people in northern Tanzania. However, it has only 450 beds and about 1,000 staff members, and they manage to treat the "hundreds of outpatients and visitors coming to the centre everyday."

In February, 2012 TNSP established a partnership with the Tukuyu School of Nursing, located in Tukuyu, southern Tanzania, close to the Zambia border. The Tukuyu school has approximately 128 students, of which 60 percent is female, and the scholarship program sponsors 10 students.

Both of these nursing school programs are government sponsored and subsidized. In order to enter a program, students apply to the Ministry of Health for admission to one of the government sponsored nursing school programs.

The ministry then assigns selected students to the individual schools.

The diploma programs require three years of study, which includes both classroom and clinical exposure. Following the successful completion of the three year program, students take a national examination. Passing scores on the national examination provides the designations of ‘registered nurse' and ‘registered midwife' to the student.

Students who are academically successful during their first year and merit financial need are eligible to be selected for a TNSP sponsorship, which generally starts in the second year of their studies.

Learn more at www.tanzanianursingstudents.org.

On returning to western Massachusetts, the three nurses began developing their idea to help educate aspiring nursing students.

In the fall of 2007, Linda van Werkhooven and her husband, Tony, traveled back to Tanzania and selected the first two students for what would become the Tanzania Nursing Scholarship Program. Students Jacqueline Owuya and Chiku Folita both graduated from their nursing diploma program in the fall of 2010.

The project supports 28 students attending one of two Tanzanian nursing schools, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi and the Tukuyu School of Nursing.

"For women there, job opportunities are very minimal and usually very poor paying. Becoming a nurse is a lot of hard work and a very difficult position," Tryon said.

The government often sends nurses to lonely outposts where road access and supplies are limited, but services are needed.

Another challenge is the lack of resources and educational materials. Tryon said six students used to have to share a single set of books when TNSP first started. Today, two or three students share a set of materials.

This past year, a computer lab was set up for the students in Moshi, but their skills and the frequency of communication is still limited.

The TNSP board does require that students send them a monthly email reporting on their progress in school; students are required to maintain good grades to keep their scholarships.

A new challenge to the program came about this year when nursing students were informed by the Ministry of Health that school fees had nearly doubled, to the equivalent of between $187 and $500 U.S. dollars, depending on the student's year of study. The average annual cash income for rural families of Tanzania is around $300.

Tryon said the scholarship program has garnered much support over the past five years, from Berkshire County chapters of groups like Civitan and Rotary International, to individuals and families.

One hundred percent of donations to the nursing scholarship fund goes directly to students. Tryon said the TNSP board has already reduced its costs due to the tuition increase by no longer hiring a tutor for the women, and they may consider scaling back the number of students sponsored next year, from 28 to 22.

She said she and her TNSP organizers remain hopeful.

"[This project] just reaffirms my belief that people will open their hearts wherever there's a need," Tryon said.

She said a donor recently sent a simulation mannequin, like the kind used at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, for the nursing students to use in their practice. Tryon said that Tanzania has a United Nations defined milennium goal to increase the number of midwives in the nation by the year 2015.

"There's a need for nursing in all of Africa. We can make a difference, and know that you don't have to have millions of dollars to make a difference," said Tryon.

"That first trip I took [to Tanzania] turned out to be amazing, more exciting than any trip I'd ever been on," she said. "It makes you grateful."