It has taken me a long time to not only accept who I am, but to like who I am. I’m proud of myself for jumping into this adventure and for opening my heart and mind to self-discovery, for accepting people as they are and for forgiving – or letting go of – the things in life and the qualities in people that I can’t control.
Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree1 in 2011, Julia Fedec accepted a position at Guelph General Hospital. But two years later, wanderlust struck and in November 2013, she moved to England to complete a nursing diploma in tropical medicine at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
In February 2014, the 26-year-old boarded another plane – this time to Tanzania. She spent five months volunteering in Arusha (in the northern part of the country) as a nurse with the Upone Medical Dispensary Foundation, a non-profit clinic established in 2007. It was modest – just three small buildings that included the main reception area, a small procedure room, consultation rooms, a lab, a four-bed in-patient ward, the doctor’s office and staff quarters.
She admits to some mild – but pleasant – culture shock.
“From the moment I set foot in Tanzania, a mixture of emotions left me both grateful and overwhelmed,” Fedec explains. “The kindness and generosity of the locals, and their incredibly welcoming nature left me feeling humbled. I became a familiar face during my daily 10 km walk to the clinic, with community members greeting me every morning, and often inviting me in to their homes for tea and food.”
Fedec’s passion for global health was confirmed during her third year at Cambrian College, when she and her classmates travelled to India to volunteer for three weeks in rural clinics. She says the experience reinforced her decision to study nursing and taught her that “no matter where you are in the world, people need to be taken care of and nurses are needed.”
Fedec has immense respect for her medical colleagues in Tanzania, but acknowledges that resource shortages could be trying at times.
“They have almost no access to gloves or hand sanitizer, let alone hand soap. They try their best to keep themselves and the clinic clean in order to reduce the risk of infection and the spread of disease,” she contends. “Our three-building clinic shared only two buckets and two mops, which were used to clean the floors with plain tap water. Surfaces and beds were wiped clean on a weekly basis, either with tap water, or with occasional chlorine powder when it was available.”
Fedec also cites power outages, missing parts and material scarcity as daily challenges.
“Our used syringes and sharps were disposed into overflowing cardboard boxes and when full, they were simply thrown into a hole dug in the ground,” she explains. “Our mom and baby clinics ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and were often dysfunctional and chaotic as we lacked syringes and medications to vaccinate the children. We often had to ask mothers to return later, when we had the money to replenish our medicinal dispensary cabinet.”
Despite resource shortfalls, the experience was life-changing. Fedec expanded her knowledge of tropical medicine, but mostly she learned to nurture herself and to be a kinder, gentler person.
“It has taken me a long time to not only accept who I am, but to like who I am,” Fedec says with uncommon honesty. “I’m proud of myself for jumping into this adventure and for opening my heart and mind to self-discovery, for accepting people as they are and for forgiving – or letting go of – the things in life and the qualities in people that I can’t control.”
She also got in touch with her ancestral roots.
“In 1942, my grandmother and many others were displaced from their homes in Poland and sent to live as refugees in the village of Tengeru, which is about 30 minutes outside Arusha,” Fedec explains. “As I walked through a mesmerizing, deeply forested tropical paradise, it gave me comfort knowing my grandmother lived in such a wonderful place during a wildly devastating time. Today, many of the landmarks remain immaculately preserved, including the school, hospital and cemetery.”
These days she knows the nursing program was the right choice, but early in her studies, Fedec was less certain.
“I knew I wanted to be in the medical field and specifically wanted to work with children. When I graduated from high school, I was overwhelmed with the idea of choosing my career path, so I settled on Cambrian’s Pre-Health diploma,” she explains. “I grew interested in nursing and thought it would be beneficial to have both theoretical and practical knowledge, should I decide to go to medical school in the future, and, that should all else fail, I was employable after graduation. Most importantly, I could help people.”
Cambrian’s small class sizes nurtured strong relationships with the faculty and staying in Sudbury – her hometown – meant she could connect with her community.
In September 2014, Fedec began a Master of Science in international public health in the United Kingdom, but she hopes to return to Sudbury some day.
“What pushes me is knowing there’s a possibility of returning to Cambrian College as a member of the nursing faculty and collaborating with the group that taught me the ropes,” she says.
: Cambrian College, Northern College, Sault College and St. Lawrence College are part of a Collaborative Nursing Program, delivering a common curriculum leading to a Laurentian University degree.