By Volunteers Olivia Herrington & Emma Duge
Sehewa was born outside Dodoma, Tanzania’s capital. He began primary school at age eleven, having spent the previous several years caring for his younger sister. Throughout primary school, he sang in his church’s choir. One day, as his graduation was approaching, his pastor made an announcement: the church had decided to facilitate applications for young people at his stage of education to enter nursing college. This was when the country had only a handful of formally trained Tanzanian healthcare workers to serve a rapidly growing population, particularly in rural areas. His mother, a farmer, had always wanted the best for her children and applied to the pastor on Sehewa’s behalf. After an interview, he was selected. So, straight out of primary school, eighteen years old and entirely uncertain what this new stage in his schooling would hold, he began his studies at the Kilimatinde School of Nursing in Tanzania’s Singida Region.
These years were difficult ones for Sehewa. He returned home every college break to help his mother farm in order to raise money to pay his school fees. But, in the final year of the three-year nursing program, even their extremely hard work did not earn enough to make the payment. Five months before he was due to take final exams, the school sent him away. The situation was desperate, but no one at home was willing to give up on Sehewa’s studies. A close family friend sold one of the cows her son was herding. The price of the cow still did not quite meet the full cost of the school fees, but it came close enough to persuade the college to let Sehewa take his exams. The college deducted the remainder from his salary over the next few months, as he transitioned from being their pupil to working in their hospital as a TN III (Trained Nurse Grade III).
Sehewa remained at Kilimatinde for five years and learned there how to work as a surgical nurse. He assisted ophthalmic surgeons and became fascinated by the field. Pulled by the voracious intellectual appetite that has defined his adult life, he sought further education to pursue specialized ophthalmic training, this time in Mvumi—back in the Dodoma area. When he returned to Kilimatinde, he was moved from the surgery department to the eye department. He served the surrounding communities through mobile clinics, screening people in their home villages for cataracts and glaucoma.
In 1998, the physicians he had assisted, who visited Kilimatinde regularly but were based in Mvumi, convinced him to work for them full-time in Mvumi. Sehewa spent the next fifteen years providing crucial medical care there. At Mvumi, ophthalmic treatment included the full suite of outpatient, inpatient, and surgical care. Just as he had been trained at Mvumi, he at that point took on the responsibility of training others. He also continued his mobile clinic work, treating patients with minor concerns immediately and bringing those who required surgical intervention to the hospital for care. The Christian Blind Mission (CBM), then based in Germany, provided funding to expand their reach and annually increase the number of patients served. CBM also supplied intraocular lenses, car maintenance, medications, and food for the hospital, in addition to paying for students to travel to Mvumi to learn.
In 1999, Sehewa again felt inspired by the needs he saw at the hospital to enhance his medical expertise. Babies were coming to Mvumi with congenital conditions, and, unlike adults, infants cannot undergo eye operations with only local anesthesia. They squirm too much for a procedure to be performed safely. Sehewa moved to Kenya for three months to learn more about putting babies under general anesthesia. Eventually, Sehewa completed his secondary school education through evening classes while working in Mvumi and then continued his formal education in nursing, ultimately becoming a Registered Nurse and Nurse Anesthetist.
In 2012 he learned of FAME through his cousin, who was already on the hospital’s staff. He applied for an open position at the hospital and was accepted, beginning work here as a nurse anesthetist and eye clinician. Sehewa is “very, very proud” that he is able to work at FAME and that his sons, Steve and Stanely, are receiving an excellent education at the Tumaini Junior School and Tumaini Pre-Primary School, respectively, just a few minutes down the road. He loves how much he is able to learn here, particularly through comparing techniques and exchanging knowledge with the volunteer doctors. He is also grateful that he can send money regularly to his mother in Dodoma, showing his appreciation for her commitment to him—without which he could not have become a nurse.
Sehewa enjoys the challenge of working with complex equipment at FAME. He is also glad he can seek advice from Dr. Frank, whom he very much admires, when he has especially difficult questions about operating such equipment. He finds deep meaning in his capacity to work hard and care for people in critical condition. Sehewa looks forward to spending the rest of his working life here.