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The Gonjo (Amharic = beautiful) Experience of Gondar

Conrad and Melinda faced a warm welcome from the people of Ethiopia.

The Gonjo (Amharic = beautiful) Experience of Gondar

Leicester medical students relate an eye-opening experience of life in Ethiopia

Our previous ideas of poverty and developing countries made us feel sceptical about travelling to Gondar, Ethiopia. However, we chose to spend 4 weeks there during summer 2009 where our encounters revealed a face of beauty behind the poverty. Being 2,300 meters above sea level, below the foothills of Simien Mountains, the picturesque scenery and ancient castles were sensational. We found Ethiopians very friendly – whether you were on a minibus or on top of a mountain, someone would want to converse with you, and their love for coffee was contagious. Being regular customers of a local coffee shop, we met a variety of people. We were lucky enough to meet a radio broadcaster who invited us to his studio to talk about our experiences on his radio show.

We spent the majority of our time attached to the surgical and paediatric departments at Gondar Hospital. Assisting in minor surgery was particularly memorable – large defects, such as 10cm diameter hydrocoeles, were operated under local anaesthetic. We were particularly privileged to conduct Gondar’s first patient satisfaction audit with the help of the audit clerk, Mistir. As many staff are still unaware of clinical audit, we felt that our project was useful, promoting awareness both in the audit process and patient centred care.

Working in Gondar Hospital.

During our time in Gondar, we were amazed to see children happily playing with just a rock outside their mud homes and patients thanking their doctors, without moaning, after waiting 6-8 hours for a 10 minute procedure. With the erratic water and electric supply, we learnt to realise that showering in collected rain water was, in fact, a luxury. Ethiopians are so grateful and happy with simple things in life which, definitely, made us learn to appreciate our lives in England. Learning in theory about developing countries is never the same as a personal experience. We fell in love with Ethiopia and would recommend anyone to go there for an elective, volunteering or even just a holiday.

A comment from an Ethiopian journalist: “you have created a link with people with your heart, you make your history from Gondar... and you can make another history in Gondar in your lifetime”

Written by Conrad Lee (5th year) and Melinda Hau (4th year) Leicester Medical students

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