Erin McNulty - Microfinance in Tanzania
I’ve always been interested in travel, volunteering and entrepreneurship, so naturally when I learned about the Micro-finance project through Projects Abroad, I became very interested. After learning that this project was offered in Tanzania, I decided that this would be the perfect way to cross off my bucket list item of “traveling to Africa” while also using my experience to make a difference in the local community. I decided to sign up to work on this project for 5 weeks, which gave me plenty of time to feel as though I was able to make a difference, while also leaving me plenty of time to explore and experience the country!
Life in Tanzania
I really enjoyed everything about my experience in Tanzania. In the pre-arrival guide, it mentioned that there was possibility we would have to share rooms and bathrooms, so it was a nice surprise when I arrived at my accommodation that I had both my own room and bathroom! I lived with one other volunteer, who happened to also be from Canada, and then there were a few other travelers who stayed in the house for some nights as well. The family I stayed with took good care of me, and always made us delicious authentic Tanzanian meals for dinner. We didn’t have wifi at the house which was refreshing as I got to have lots of good conversation, read, and spend time writing in my journal.
I might be a little biased, but I think the Micro-finance project is one of the most hands on and total volunteer experiences for someone to take part in. Not only is this a great experience to add to a resume, but the hands on work you get to do gives you a rewarding feeling everyday; you get to see first-hand what kind of impact your time is able to have on these women.
The project revolves around supporting seven groups of women with microloans while assisting them with their individual and group businesses. I was honestly excited every single day to get to the office and get working with our groups of women and their businesses. The other volunteers that I worked with were from Australia, USA, Norway and Canada, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to work with and learn from.
A typical day would consist of us taking the Dala Dala (public bus) to the office, where we would do most of the leg-work of the project. We would do things like planning meetings and lessons, talking about group business ideas, suggesting ideas for ways we could help the women, and working on ways to feature our women’s products to other volunteers.
Each day would consist of meeting with one or two of our groups, and running a group meeting for the women. We would always collect their books to see that they were keeping track of their money properly, and then we would typically run a lesson for them in English or math. We would also choose one women to do an individual business visit with so we would get to see her business first hand and be able to offer her specific advice. In between meetings, we would go eat at local restaurants for lunch which was always a great experience as I got to try many types of Tanzanian food.
Although there were many highlights of working on this project, my favorite experiences were:
- Getting a chance to work with and meet all different kinds of people. We worked with groups of single mothers, women with HIV, women with disabilities and Maasai women.
- Getting to play games with the women to help them learn English and math. We created a “charades-like” game to help with English which was hilarious, and one of the volunteers created a “fake money” game to help the women with their book keeping.
- Getting to know these women personally and learn their stories. We got to visit a lot of their homes and businesses to see what day to day life is like for them.
- Coming up with new group businesses. We helped a group work on a pre-measured powdered cake mix that only requires the addition of eggs and can be cooked over a fireplace.
Fun in Tanzania
Although the biggest highlight of my trip was definitely working on this project, I also had plenty of time to see the area and experience many cool things. I spent many afternoons exploring the city and enjoying coffee and milkshakes (and wifi) at the local cafes with other volunteers. I got to go on a safari to Mt. Meru National Park, where I got to see giraffes, elephants and baboons for the first time!
I also went camping with some other volunteers for a weekend at a Maasai village. This was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced! We stayed at the Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge and I cannot recommend this place enough. The best part for me was that at 6 am each morning the giraffes would pass by the campsite to get to the water, so I would spend time just taking pictures and watching them.
Overall, this was truly one of the best experiences of my life, and I am so thankful that I decided to take a chance and do something different! Combining volunteering with traveling is a great way to experience new cultures and make a difference in the local community!