Lauren Sabin - High School Specials, Care & Community in Tanzania
I’ve always begged my parents to take me to somewhere like Tanzania. Quite frankly I was bored of my family’s annual holiday to the Isle of Wight, and wanted to explore the realities of a third world country. I knew lots of gap year organizations existed, but very few catered for people under the age of 18. This High School Special program just seemed like the perfect opportunity, and since Projects Abroad have such a great reputation, I managed to convince my dad I would be safe and not eaten alive by lions!
My Host family in Arusha
Naturally I was nervous about the prospect of being away by myself for two weeks, while staying with a host family. I’m a vegetarian, and didn’t want to offend anyone by not eating meat. Looking back my concerns seem ridiculous, as I was welcomed into a warm and loving home. The two other volunteers I lived with were lovely, and together we spent our evening trying to teach our host brothers and sisters how to play the card game, ‘cheat’, whilst allowing them to bend the rules slightly due to some miscommunications. The atmosphere was just so relaxed, and although I didn’t spend much time with the family, I miss them all dearly.
My Volunteer Placement
I worked with a group of about 13 other volunteers from all over the world at Tumaini orphanage, which was about a 45 minute drive from the district of Sakina where we all stayed. The driver of our minibus played the same tape over and over again, despite the fact he had a collection of about 10 to choose from. That song became the soundtrack to my summer and we had all mastered the lyrics by the time we left for the airport.
As you can imagine the children were adorable, and I think we all became quite attached to a little boy called Joseph, who walked around like he owned the place, and continually assured us in his best English ‘we are fine’. We spent the afternoons, skipping, coloring, helping them spell their names, playing Frisbee, and swinging them about. Whilst I wanted to bring every single one of them home, I saw they were wonderfully cared for and above all happy.
The project itself involved a lot of painting. It took us the first week to apply the base coat on two buildings, and then during the second we designed murals to cover the outside walls. We returned home each day covered in paint, and although it sometimes felt like hard work, a meal of chapatti and beans, alongside a mountain of bananas and oranges kept our energy levels up. We signed the wall before we left, and I know we were all pleased with what we had achieved.
On the Saturday we drove to one of Tanzania’s national parks to go on safari, something I thought I’d never be lucky enough to experience. I certainly didn’t expect to see the animals so close up, and it was amazing yet really quite bizarre having a lioness casually stroll past my window. The wildlife is incredible, and if you’re an animal lover Tanzania is certainly the place to go. My friends and family were all quite jealous when I returned home with photos of baby elephants.
Saturday night we stayed in a lodge and for dinner ate a huge portion of fries (it’s not just ugali and vegetables), and then the next day we set off early to visit a bushman tribe. I think that was the moment I truly understood the term ‘culture shock’, and it was fascinating to see their way of life.
Whilst I was there, my group also visited a snake park, a Masai museum, went on a waterfall walk, rode camels, learnt how to make coffee and practiced our haggling skills at a Masai market. What more could I have asked for! A lesson in basic Swahili also came in handy.
It was heart-breaking having to say good-bye at the end of our trip. My host family presented us with gifts which resembled table cloths, although they insisted on dressing us up in them. Happy, my host mothers adopted daughter, gave me a letter, saying ‘I wish I could be able to stop your journey, but it is impossible’. I told her I wanted to stay, and she was amazed to discover I preferred Tanzania to England (somewhere I described being as cold and grey). I now realize how much I meant what I said, and how Africa’s vibrant culture really has changed my outlook on life.
I’m now planning my Gap Year before I go on to study at university, and can’t wait to experience this all over again. Two weeks wasn’t long enough! And I wish I could have stayed longer, but I would encourage anyone who is considering this trip to get out there and do it. I don’t think of myself as a terribly brave or confident person, but I had the time of my life, and met some absolutely wonderful people!