Volunteering in Africa. I still don’t have any related experience myself. My volunteering experience is limited by the possibilities and time I have and even though after volunteering in Russia and in the USA I can share a lot of experience, I feel it’s still not enough. I’ve asked Polish travel bloggers for help before and they answered the question – is it worth volunteering abroad.
Now, in order to show you a broader picture of what it is like to volunteer abroad, I asked other travel bloggers to share their experience with you.
Today Isabelle from Boundless Roads will tell us about volunteering in Tanzania.
Volunteering in Tanzania
In march 2013 I had a last minute and brief volunteering experience in Peru, where I have changed my travel plans to help out a local organization looking after kids in their afterschool activities. It was so fulfilling that I decided to find another similar experience for a longer period and this time I wanted to volunteer in Africa.
At the time I was still working in a corporate job with a limited vacation. However in the same year I was determined to volunteer and I asked my boss if I could get a month unpaid leave which would be added to my 15 days paid vacation I had left for the year.
I showed her what I wanted to do and the pictures of the kids I was going to volunteer in Tanzania for and it took zero time to get approval. I had an amazing boss, I know. I was very grateful for her support.
[Dorota: Do you want to ask your boss for an unpaid leave too? This post will help you out! How to ask your boss for an extended leave to travel]
Volunteering in Tanzania – tasks, challenges and impressions
It was all planned for November, 15 days in a safari with a friend of mine and 4 weeks alone with my voluntary program in Arusha, in the north of Tanzania. I was volunteering within an international organization program, very popular and present all over the world – IVHQ VOLUNTEER. The headquarter is in New Zealand and they rely on the work of local operators for the organization of the volunteers, their work permit and all their needs on site.
All the new volunteers and myself had a first day meeting where they would explain how it worked and would assign each of us to our own volunteer place. There were nurses to hospitals, and random volunteers like me in schools or orphanages.
I paid 200 USD for my work permit, which I eventually found out to be useless because for less than a month volunteering you wouldn’t need it. Where did my money go? I would have never found out. Welcome to Africa. I didn’t really bother, though. I had a great job and a good monthly salary I could have done without 200usd and it had possibly helped somebody else struggling with absurd minimum wages regulations. It was fine. I was focusing on my assignment.
With another volunteer we were accompanied to our school or what was supposed to be a school. We had to do a morning hike in the hills of Arusha, leaving our houses about 1 hour before lesson started.
The school building was literally crumbling, dirty and dusty. There were 4 classes one teacher, who sometimes wouldn’t even show up and one “director” who would teach in his place.
I would later find out that the teacher was being paid nuts and the director was a local permanent volunteer. The school was not a recognized, official school, but something the locals have put together to offer some kind of education to those kids who wouldn’t have any chance to benefit from official schooling. That was heartbreaking as much as were the kids begging to be sponsored to get to regular schooling.
I was assigned to the older kids 10 to 14 years old, only 4 kids of which 1 dropped out. When I asked I was told that she was HIV positive and had to be hospitalized. It was a very common disease there, apparently. She was a beautiful girl with long thin dreadlocks, whose life was on the edge. I felt so useless.
In the class I was supposed to teach all subjects, except Swahili, the local language. Geography, Math, English, History, Science. How I was going to do that I had no idea but I was ok. I would have figured something out. I had a few books but I immediately went to the bookstore and bought some stationery and exercise books for the kids.
I did my best but I am not sure how much I could contribute to their education.
I also found out that my assignment would have been shortened to 3 weeks because they had Christmas holidays.
You don’t save lives in 3 weeks, not even 3 months. Probably 3 years? I am not sure.
The other volunteer was teaching in the primary class, the cutest 5 to 9 years old ever. Sometimes while my students were doing some homework I would run in an unattended class to help out. She and myself were buying food for them every day and we spent as much time as possible with the kids, talking, playing, hugging.
Yes, hugging. You could tell they were lacking of affection most of all. Especially the smallest one they wanted to be held in our arms very often.
It was overwhelming . I felt like I was receiving more benefits from this experience than them.
I always thought about those kids and their destiny. When we leave, who would look after them? I wonder if this kind of volunteering in Tanzania was actually giving something and doing something good or just feeding our ego, to make peace with our conscience, to comfort us because “ we did our bit”?
Before leaving I went to a boarding school to check out for prices as I was thinking to support the education for one of them, but I didn’t want to take this financial responsibility and besides, I wasn’t even sure the money would have gone to where it was supposed to go as there would be nobody to control it. There is a lot of corruption around volunteer societies and a lot of company take advantage of the “volunteer” word to make a business. I am sure it was not my case, but this company couldn’t really control everything what was going on locally. I have heard of very bad cases where money given for charity ended in somebody’s pockets. I prefer to donate my time and knowledge rather then giving out money.
One day I went to visit an orphanage where a friend of mine was working. It was heartbreaking to see the poor conditions those kids had to live in, so dirty and unhygienic and yet those kids looked so happy to be together and have somebody to look after them and bringing them food. Certainly, an example to all of us.
Volunteering in Tanzania – is it worth doing it?
Bottom line is, is it really a good thing to volunteer or it’s just a business called with another name?
It is indeed a good thing to me. Many associations, many people are there for real! They run amazing programs and even if only one child can benefit from it and make it to a better education, a better lifestyle – it’s a win.
I know people who dedicate their life to that with a genuine heart and I admire them profoundly. You don’t necessarily be like that to do your bit. No matter if you help anybody of your pals or your family in any simple task or you work in a volunteer project in Africa you still contribute to create a better world.
And most of all it doesn’t really matter why you are doing it. Whether you want to make a change or it is for your ego, to make you feel better with yourself – it is still good to do it. You give and help out those in need. That is the most important thing to me.
Isabella from Boundless Roads
Italian by birth, Caribbean in my soul and nomad by inner call, I have left my fancy corporate job to wander around Mexico and the entire Latin America, while sharing my travel and life experience through my blog and making my new nomadic life sustainable. I talk about travel, plant-based food and inspiring stories.
Facebook: Boundless Roads, Instagram: @boundlessroads
If you’re thinking to volunteer in Tanzania or anywhere else in the world – check this step by step guide: How To Volunteer Abroad?
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