Iona Reynolds - High School Specials, Care & Community in Tanzania
For a long time I have wanted to help disadvantaged children and immerse myself in a culture that I had not yet been exposed to; there seemed no better way of doing that than volunteering with Projects Abroad on a High School Special program during my summer holidays.
Living with the host family
It was a unique opportunity to stay with a host family who really helped us to understand the traditional values and culture associated with the Tanzanian lifestyle. All the volunteers stayed in the same host family and it was certainly very different living with people you had never met before, but that really encouraged us to integrate. There were a range of nationalities in our group – British, French, Belgian, Swiss, Danish and quite a few Italians. I signed up alone, thinking that it would force me to take full advantage of the opportunity, but I certainly didn’t feel excluded.
Tumaini for Africa (TFA)
The 14 volunteers on the Care & Community project worked at an orphanage called Tumaini for Africa (TFA), which was approximately 50 minutes from our accommodation. The first few days took some getting used to, but as each day passed the time seemed to go past even quicker than before. Most memorably of all, upon seeing 14 white people in a minibus passing through rural villages, local children would call to their friends and family members, "Mzungu, Mzungu" in fascination of seeing people with white skin. It was clear, judging by their reaction, that this was something they had never seen before.
Our first day at Tumaini for Africa (TFA) was a deeply humbling one. We heard about the children's parents and how many of them suffer or are victims of HIV/Aids. It reminds us that we take so much for granted, one thing being our health. Luckily, none of the children at the orphanage were HIV positive, but it showed us just how common it is and how many lives are affected by such an awful disease. We also had our brief from the builders and Upendo and her husband Clement, who ran the orphanage, as to how we were to go about building the chicken coup in less than ten days.
Our days were split into two. In the mornings, our time was devoted to building the chicken coup, which would increase the number of chickens that the orphanage owned. The idea behind the larger chicken coup was so that the eggs could be sold to the local village, enabling TFA to become more financially self-sustainable and also, as the eggs are a source of protein, to improve the nutritional value in the children's food.
There was quite a bit of manual labor involved, from digging to cement mixing, but we all got involved with tasks that we had never experienced before. And that was the fun of it! One of the most repetitive tasks was passing the bricks, cement or sand from where they had been delivered, across a small ditch to our building site.
We formed a chain, and while carrying one brick or bucket wasn't too much of a task, after the 15th there were several groans and sighs coming from the group – me being one of them! I definitely developed new arm muscles after two weeks!
Occasionally there wouldn't be enough building work for everyone at once, due to the limited number of building tools, and this would allow a few volunteers to go to the children's rooms. Here, there was a range of activities that they could do, including coloring, reading or arts and crafts. This would continue into the afternoon, broken up by lunch outside where we would be served a variety of Tanzanian delicacies.
Other activities in Tanzania
Our days weren't always the same though, some afternoons we would participate in workshops organized by Projects Abroad in the office in Arusha or go on trips. These included a Swahili language lesson and a Massai cultural workshop from Robert before visiting a Massai village the following day. The day spent in the Massai village gave us such a raw and honest experience of the famous Massai tribe and their lifestyle. Robert took us to his village and introduced us to his extended family.
Free time in Tanzania
Our weekend was perfectly organized by our coordinators. On the Saturday they took us to Tarangire National Park, which is approximately 2.5 hours in safari jeeps from Arusha. Having never been on safari before, the chance to see wildlife so close was breath-taking – zebras, elephants, ostriches, buffalos and antelopes.
The following day we went on a hike to a waterfall, the Marangu Falls at the base of Mount Meru. At one stage our hike didn’t seem possible, as our minibus held about 18 people and couldn't get up a narrow hill. This meant that we had to walk for an hour to get to the starting point, but the scenery of the little settlements below was breath-taking.
Our walk was fairly steady, but then we realized that in order to reach the waterfall we would have to clamber down incredibly steep parts of the cliff. The boys from the local villages came out to offer us a hand and despite only being ten years old, my helper, Alan, was much better at it than me! As we got to the bottom we had to zigzag across the river, back and forth, walking in shallow water. It was lovely to get some fresh air and after an hour or so, we reached the base of the waterfall – it was really beautiful and well worth it.
The second week of our placement was mainly bricklaying in order to complete the chicken coup. We did so and on the Thursday the chickens were delivered and the children all carried them to the new hutch. They were so excited at the prospect of having more chickens; it really was a lovely sight to see.
Back to the UK
As a 17-year-old, two weeks away was perfect for me and though I was sad to leave Tanzania, I was ready to return home. As long as you prepare yourself well you won't miss home, because you'll be too busy. You should, though, prepare for the culture shock. Even if you have traveled extensively, doing it alone and seeing those who are the least fortunate will really give you a better perspective of reality. It's a fantastic opportunity to travel, but an even better one to give something back to those who are less fortunate. I would do it all over again if the opportunity arose and would encourage and recommend it to anyone.
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