Anthony Finn - General Care Projects in Tanzania
I left Canada in the fall of 2009 looking for an adventure; a chance to balance travel with service and volunteering. I had just finished my undergraduate degree at Queen’s University and after a summer spent working and saving I was ready to see a little bit more of the world. With the help of Projects Abroad I was able to accomplish all of these goals. I was able to have my adventure, experience a new faraway place I’d only ever dreamed of visiting before all the while contributing and volunteering in a meaningful way.
I was placed with the Good Hope Orphanage and Children’s Centre in Usa River just outside the town of Arusha in Tanzania. I wish I could say that I took to my Care Placement like a duck to water but the truth is those few first days I felt more like I was floundering than succeeding.
I had hoped to be able to combine some teaching along with providing an extra set of hands around Good Hope. To be honest my first lesson went horribly. Half the children already knew the answers and so I wasn’t teaching them anything while the other half either fell asleep or wandered out of our little classroom. At this point I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed. Walking home from my placement those first few days I thought seriously about how I could have more of a positive impact.
To that end I started first by dividing the children into age groups. Most of them were on Christmas/summer vacation from school but still I thought they could benefit from a routine and a little stability as well as the chance to improve their English reading and writing skills.
Through a lot of trial and error the kids of Good Hope and I worked out a typical day that we all enjoyed. A “typical day” usually went something like this: I would arrive at the orphanage between eight and nine in the morning. My methods of transportation varied. On Monday it could be by foot; Tuesday by motorcycle taxi; and Wednesday, if I was lucky, the rare Dalla Dalla or mini-bus might pass me and I’d be able to hop on. I should mention that arriving by motorcycle was the kids’ favourite.
Together we would all fetch water from the river to be used for washing or cooking. Afterwards I would start with the little ones or KG (short for Kindergarten) as the kids called it. “KG! KG! Time for KG! Sir, Sir! This one is not KG, sir.” With the Kindergarten Class we read simple books that I had brought from Canada with the hope of teaching these little Tanzanians something about my home even as they were sharing theirs with me. While “The ABC’s of Canada,” and “Canada 123” were popular, by far their favourite book was, “Z is for Zamboni,” which we read everyday – sometimes twice.
After KG it was time for Class 2. “Class 2! Class 2!” Class 2 was for slightly bigger kids that fell somewhere in between a Canadian grade 2 or grade 4 class. Together we worked on basic English grammar concepts like nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. We also had a few tests on these ideas to make sure they understand what we had covered the week before.
In the early afternoon I worked with some of the older kids on Geography covering subjects like longitude and latitude, continents, time zones, and volcanoes. This was all taken out of an English language Geography text book that had been supplied to me by Good Hope. It was the only text book for the class.
I tried to never keep any class longer than an hour. It was summer vacation after all.
After lunch there was time for arts and crafts. We made necklaces and bracelets using beads and pieces of string or twine. Around Christmas time we made paper chains and snowflakes using a bit of an assembly line procedure since the only pair of scissors we had were the pair I had brought in my first aid kid. I think I can say confidently everyone’s favourite part of the day was the trip to the nearby field to play a little soccer, skip rope, and just have some fun.
I say that was a typical day but there was always more to do at Good Hope and some weeks seemed to have more atypical days than typical ones. Sometimes whole days were spent just doing the wash, or setting up for our Christmas party, preparing a special meal or sometimes the kids just couldn’t stand to be in a classroom. I definitely learned the importance of having a lesson plan ready for tomorrow but also the importance of being able to abandon that lesson plan if it just wasn’t going to work that day. A day at Good Hope might only be from nine to three but there were a few times it might be from eight to ten: six hours, eight hours, ten hours, eleven, twelve hours.
Whenever I was frustrated, whenever I felt like I wasn’t making any headway I tried to keep one thing in mind. I promised myself that I would make sure to have fun everyday and if I was having fun then chances are the kids would have fun too. There was only so much I could do in a month; there was only so much material we could cover. But together, the amazing children of Good Hope and I, could always make sure we had fun.
I hope you will consider volunteering with Projects Abroad. This is an amazing organization and they will send you somewhere that could really use your help. If there’s anything I can tell you from my own experience it would be three things. Don’t get too discouraged; it will take you a little time to get your bearings. Always be prepared to adapt; things won’t always go the way you expect them to. And, most importantly, try and have some fun; you’ll find if you do the people around you will have some as well.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.