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Interview with Federica Laurenti

09.12.2022

Thirty-two-year-old Federica Laurenti has worked as a SolidarMed project manager in Tanzania since mid-April this year. Born in Italy, Federica has lived in various African countries and worked as a midwife mainly in humanitarian contexts. She tells us about her first few months in Ifakara and what motivated her to move to Tanzania with her family.

Federica, what originally motivated you to become a midwife?

From a very young age, I’ve always been fascinated by the care sector. I decided to train as a midwife because I liked the idea of working with women and for women. I also wanted to be a part of the ’mum and newborn bubble’ and help get mother and baby off to a good start.

Federica Laurenti (second left) and healthcare professionals after a four-day training course at Morogoro Hospital in September.

You used to work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. What keeps bringing you back to the African continent?

I’ve always been fascinated by Africa, but in a very naïve way. I was influenced by the media and so only knew about the typical stereotypes. I’ve always been interested in other cultures. That’s why I first went travelling alone at 19. I gained my first professional experience as a volunteer in Congo. That’s when I realised that that was exactly what I wanted to do. 

“I believe in the right to healthcare for everyone.”

Federica Laurenti, Project Manager "A good Start", Tansania

How was that experience? 

I think in the beginning you only do those sorts of assignments for yourself. You can’t bring much added value with only limited experience under your belt. Like many other volunteers, I had the cliched idea of ’I’m going to Africa to help’. But in a very short space of time and with no experience, you can’t help. I realised that I wanted to live in a country with limited resources but only if I could add value in a constructive way. That’s why I believe SolidarMed is the right organisation for me. We are strengthening existing systems, supporting local stakeholders and developing partnerships. We’re in it for the long term and focus on sustainability. 

 

Apart from that, why did you apply for the position in Tanzania? 

I want to help fight inequality through my work. I strongly believe in the right to quality healthcare for everyone, all over the world. Whether someone is born in Switzerland or Tanzania, they should get the same package at birth. Unfortunately, this is still not the reality and I don’t know if it ever will be. 

"I can have more of an impact as a project manager than I would on the labour ward," Federica Laurenti

Das "A good Start" soll die Überlebensrate von Neugeborenen steigern, mitunter mit dem Ausbau der Infrastruktur und Schulungen des lokalen Personals.

Is that also why you now work in a project management role? 

If you’re in a humanitarian crisis, clinical work can make a big difference. I wanted to move more towards development work.  As I’m aware of the challenges and reality on the ground, I can bring greater added value as a project manager to strengthen the system. Sometimes I miss working on the labour ward. But I believe in the partnerships we are building with the Ministry of Health and hospital management teams. I can have a bigger and more lasting impact as a project manager than I would in the labour ward. 

You’re responsible for the ’Good Start’ project. Can you tell us more about it?

The project focuses on improving neonatal health and the neonatal survival rates. We mainly start with infrastructure and medical equipment because it is urgently needed. It’s also important to train and mentor staff. But focussing solely on healthcare facilities is not enough. People need to trust the healthcare system and need to be educated about its benefits. This is why we collaborate with community health workers who know their respective communities. And finally, together with the Ifakara Health Institute, we also want to measure the impact of our activities. 

"I’ve always said that my kids are the most difficult mission of my life."

Federica Laurenti, Project Manager "A good Start", Tansania

What were the first few weeks in Tanzania like? 

What I learned from my past experiences is that when you arrive in a new country you are a real foreigner. This is why you have to go ’pole, pole’ * as the Tanzanians say. You have to get to know the people, observe the context and situations and try to understand before you start implementing. So, I started with getting to know people, building relationships and learning. 

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You moved to Ifakara with your two children (aged four and 18 months) and your husband. How do you balance your demanding position with family life? 

I’ve always said that my kids are the most difficult mission of my life (laughs). I always have to find a balance between motherhood and being fully committed to a project. But I think that would be the same anywhere in the world. My husband and I both really believe that it is great for our kids to experience different cultures.

* Typical Swahili expression that means ’slowly, slowly’.  


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