Blandford couple hosts visiting scholar from Tanzania

BLANDFORD – Blandford residents Tony and Linda van Werkhooven are hosting Lilian Mejool, a visiting scholar from Moshi, Tanzania, while she spends the semester studying at the University Of Massachusetts Amherst College Of Nursing.
Mejool, who has a Master’s in Public Health and Tropical Disease Control, is a teacher and administrator at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC) School of Nursing. Her trip here is being sponsored by the Tanzania Nursing Scholarship Program (, founded by the Werkhoovens in 2007.
The program started after Linda van Werkhooven, a retired registered nurse, went on safari with two friends who are also RNs. While enjoying the beauty of the country and the animals, they decided to visit some rural clinics, and were struck by the level of poverty, shortage of supplies, and in particular the shortage of nurses. Two-thirds of health workers in Tanzania are nurses, yet there are only 24 registered nurses per 100,000 population, and far fewer doctors. (In the U.S., there are 850 nurses per 100,000.)
They learned that many young women were interested in going to school for nursing, but the big obstacle in doing so was the lack of money for the school fees. When they returned from their trip, Linda tried to make contact to find out what they could do to help, but found it very difficult. That’s when Linda’s husband Tony van Werkhooven, a health insurance actuary, got involved.
In the fall of 2007, the couple went back to Tanzania and met with the principal of the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center School of Nursing’s 3-year diploma program, and the Tanzania Nursing Scholarship Program was born. The program has since graduated 66 registered nurses, and is sponsoring 45 students this fall. The cost of sponsoring a student is $620 per year.
While at UMass, Mejool is focusing her studies on clinical simulation labs, and how they are used in education.
“The skills lab is a new concept in Tanzania,” Mejool said. “Here in America, when you see a nursing skills lab, it is very beautiful and well equipped, almost the same as the hospital. Students have clinical hours in a hospital, and in the skills lab.”
She said the labs at UMass have 3G mannequins that breathe like humans. Students can measure vital signs, and practice basic nursing skills on them. The school also has advanced mannequins for different procedures.
“They are very expensive,” she said.
Mejool’s interest is in studying how to coordinate simulation labs to equip students for learning in Tanzania.
“Everybody wants to have good nursing care,” Mejool said. “If you don’t have a skills lab for education, the quality of care is low.”
The Nursing Scholarship Program did recently donate one mannequin with a computer linkage to the KCMC School of Nursing. The mannequin, purchased in South Africa, makes heart sounds and bowel sounds. Students learn by listening to the sounds, Mejool said. They can also practice taking blood pressure and pulse.
“You can use a simulation lab with team teaching, and teach students even more than five skills a day, In Tanzania, one teacher teaches students all the skills,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”
“My wish is for government leaders to invest in good laboratories for nursing and in nursing education, especially skills labs,” Mejool said. Tony said the Director of Nursing Education in her country is aware of what she’s doing here.
Mejool said she’s been very welcomed at UMass. They gave her an ID card to be regarded as a faculty member. She has use of the library and the Internet, a free bus pass around Amherst, and can attend all of the meetings at the College of Nursing. She also met a student from Malawi who is pursuing her Ph.D. in nursing, the only other student from Africa in the College of Nursing.
She also plans to participate in local activities, like picking apples and visiting Mt. Skinner, and she is looking forward to the fall colors. She said that she has seen pictures before, and wondered, “Is it true, or is someone painting them?”
The sheer abundance of trees here has also impressed her.
“In Africa, people are struggling with global warming,” she said. “We have a serious problem of people cutting trees without replacing them.”
She said there is a special project of planting trees to save Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“Even international people are very concerned,” she said.
Tony and Linda met Mejool on that first visit to Tanzania in 2007. “Lillian has always been very helpful dealing with the students that we sponsor,” he said.
“To us, we consider Tony and Linda as our friends,” Mejool said. “They’ve been very good people to us, helping students to pay tuition fees and have pocket money.”
She said they depend on the tuition fees to run the school. “It’s a very, very good program. I hope it will continue for 100 years,” she said.
She said there is a saying that when you educate a woman in Africa, you educate the community in Africa.
“We really hope that Lilian will bring back what she’s learned, and be able to share it with her colleagues and at other universities,” Tony said.

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