Earlier this week, we posted the first part of an interview with past guest, Dr. Mike Rubenstein. In it, he spoke about his first safari with Thomson, and how meaningful a customized volunteering extension was to him. By the time he got home, he already knew he wanted to return to Tanzania. The rest of our interview with Mike follows:
Well we know you did go back. How many times have you visited, now?
This March will be my 9th trip to Tanzania, and my 8th working with FAME. Over the years I’ve worked with them to develop a neurology clinic, and a mini-mobile clinic, servicing villages in the Karatu district.
Recently, I’ve managed to work out a program with Penn, the university where I currently teach. Last March I took one of my fellows, Danielle, with me on my trip. She wants to come with me one more time, next September, then she’s going to help me lead trips where we take other fellows over and give them the opportunity to volunteer in a country where there’s truly just so much need.
I never thought I’d end up in global health, but now that I’ve started, there’s so much more I want to do. I want to build a house over there near FAME, where the Penn fellows can stay, and I want to purchase a vehicle for our full-time use. On the weekends we can take it out to some of the parks, so the fellows have a chance to see that side of Tanzania, too. I’ve been driving myself for the last several trips, and last time I got the most remarkable compliment: I saw Leonard heading out from Tarangire as I was driving some folks into the park, and he told his wife that I looked like a “real safari driver!” [Laughs.]
As a doctor, you have the ability to give back in a very specific way, but what can ordinary travelers do to help Tanzania?
Something I didn’t understand until I got there was just how little infrastructure is in place in some parts of the country. It’s still a place with huge needs, and everything you give helps. I’d really urge people to do what I did: set up a volunteer element alongside their safaris. It’s so simple, and it makes such a huge impact.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work in Tanzania?
Being introduced to another culture, another way of life, and the amazingly warm, generous people there. It has truly changed my life in ways I never thought possible.
It may sound a little corny, but the honest truth is that I get so much more out of my time in Tanzania than I can ever give. This defines a lot of who I am now, and it means so much to me. Tanzania has become my second home.