Susan Kantor - General Care Projects in Tanzania
Although it has now been a few years since I did my Care placement in Tanzania, I can still vividly remember arriving – I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life! I had taken six months leave of absence from my job in Australia to travel the world and I spent two months of that time volunteering in Tanzania. I knew of a few people who had volunteered in Africa and I always thought it sounded like an amazing experience and something I would like to try. So, even though I was excited to be going, I was so unsure about what to expect and what it would be like.
When I arrived in Arusha I was met by the local Projects Abroad staff at the bus station, having just arrived from Nairobi. I was taken by taxi to my host family in Usa and I just remember thinking “what am I doing here?” My nerves were quickly forgotten, though, when I met my family and saw how lovely and welcoming they were. My youngest host sister, Juliet, was five years old and soon became my shadow for the next few months.
We spent lots of time playing together and I often helped her with her homework. Given some of the potential facilities I had been prepared for, I was very happy when I arrived at the house to see that we had running water, electricity and a flushing toilet! Over the next few days, as I did a city induction tour, induction at the nursery school where I was placed and I began to meet some of the other volunteers who lived nearby, I began to settle into the new way of life.
On my first day of work at Armani Nursery School, the principal introduced me to the whole school and made me get up and say a few words about myself, which I wasn’t quite prepared for, but over the next two months there were many situations that I had to learn to just go with the flow! As I had volunteered for a Care placement, I hadn’t really expected to be placed in a school where I had to teach structured classes to the “babies” – 3 and 4 years olds in their first year of school. But, although there were many challenging days, I grew to love my class and their warm embrace and cries of “good morning Madam Susan” as I stepped inside the school grounds every day.
There were certainly lots of tears when it came time to say goodbye! We had around 60 children in the class and I either helped out the main class teacher or was responsible for running some math, English and art classes on my own. I found the other volunteers to be a great resource in helping me plan lessons.
One of my best memories of my two months in Tanzania is the friendships I formed with the other volunteers, some of whom I am still friends with today, despite the fact we live all over the world. There was another volunteer who lived with me and my host family and we shared a room together, which was great if we ever needed to talk through any issues.
Every Thursday night, Projects Abroad staff would organize a “social” dinner with the all the volunteers at different places around Arusha. Also, every weekend the volunteers would get together and organize activities, day trips or even trips away. We went to Moshi, Arusha National Park, a coffee plantation, hiking and even the circus. Sometimes we just relaxed at the swimming pools of some nearby lodges.
Many of us all took trips on safari, to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and to Zanzibar. Arusha is a built-up town (the second biggest in Tanzania) and really caters for tourists as many use the town as a launching point to go to the Serengeti or Kili. This meant we could get our fix of Western food when days on end of eating ugali (a maize product and Tanzanian staple) for dinner became a bit too much!
Challenges and advice
I think one of the most challenging aspects of my volunteering experience was dealing with the cultural differences. Whilst people were very welcoming and friendly and I always felt safe, they didn’t operate on the same schedule as I am used to. I really had to learn to relax and take things pole pole (slowly slowly). I found that once I stopped comparing to how things are done at home and just had an open mind to a new way of life; it made it much easier to accept the differences. It certainly also gave me a huge appreciation of all the things at home I took for granted.
My advice for anyone considering a volunteering experience with Projects Abroad is “do it”. My volunteer placement was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I continue to hold treasured memories of my time in Tanzania. I also found Projects Abroad to be incredibly supportive and being part of a group of volunteers really made the experience so special. You won’t regret it.
Read more about Care in Tanzania