Rebecca Chasse - General Care Projects in Tanzania
I had known for years that I really wanted to travel to Africa, and spend my time volunteering at an orphanage. I knew a couple people who had been to Tanzania, and I heard nothing but rave reviews from them, so I decided on there as my destination. I looked at different companies for a while, finally found Projects Abroad, and after a few short months of waiting, and a VERY long flight I found myself at the Dar es Salaam airport. I was instantly overwhelmed; it was so completely different from anywhere I had ever been before. I was tempted to turn around and get back on the plane; not doing so was the best decision I ever made.
The orphanage and the children
I started work the next day at a great little orphanage not far from where I lived. It housed 15 children all under the age of 10. I spoke no Kiswahili and they spoke no English. I knew from day one it was going to be a challenge, but after all that’s what I had come for! The children were so excited to have us there every day (another volunteer worked with me) that it totally made it worth the torturous dala dala (local bus system) rides and sweating walks to get there.
The first few days were the hardest; trying to figure out what to do with all these children and a huge language barrier was daunting! When I look back now I feel like I spent most of my first week feeling a little shy, very overwhelmed, and like I wasn’t quite as impressive as I thought I would be. However, the children were easy to please, anxious to learn, and eager to try anything I could think of. Before I knew it I was completely comfortable taking charge of the activities each day, and I was in love with all the children and their bubbling personalities.
We quickly settled into a daily routine. I would spend most mornings teaching the children colors, body parts, clothing, etc. in English, and then they would tell me the words in Kiswahili and laugh at my attempts to pronounce them! We would then read some English children’s books I had brought with me, (which the kids loved!) and sing until we were hoarse! We would then spend time doing puzzles, playing jump rope, coloring, and any other games we wanted to try that day.
After our morning activities the children would eat lunch, wash their dishes, and then we would go back to playing. After lunch I would really try to spend more one on one time with the children instead of focusing on group activities. This was my favorite time of day! The children were all so lovable, and so unbelievably happy to receive love and attention that it made this time really special.
At the beginning of my trip I felt like the most I could give to these children would be to teach them as much as possible. I soon realized, however, that the best thing I could give them with my time there was my love, so that’s what I did. I made sure every day I took the time to tell each of them that I loved them and give them a big hug.
We went on a few special outings to the beach and the children absolutely loved it! They lived minutes from the ocean, but for most of them it was a new experience. Swimming and playing in the bath-warm water was exciting and fun for us all. It was something that they really looked forward to and won’t forget anytime soon!
My experience in Tanzania
My host family and the cultural experience I got from them was priceless. I learned things that you would never get from staying in a hotel. The staff in Dar es Salaam was so helpful and lovely, and we had weekly “care meetings” for the volunteers to get together to discuss their frustrations, games that really worked, and favorite stories. The support was just outstanding from the staff, my host family, and the other volunteers. I met so many people who quickly became great friends, and we still keep in touch!
My trip was 3 and 1/2 months long, and at the end I felt like it wasn’t nearly long enough. Leaving those wonderful beautiful children was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I knew it was going to be a really hard day and that I was going to cry. The other volunteer I had been working with had left before me, and I didn’t want to go through it alone, so I asked one of the staff members, Paula, to come with me on my last day. She happily agreed and her support was the only reason I was able to keep walking when I left.
The children were all given a chance to say anything they wanted to me, so they one by one stood up and gave small speeches (translated by the director of the orphanage) thanking me for taking them to the beach, painting their faces, playing with them, etc. They told me they loved me and would never forget me, which tore my heart out. I then thanked them all for similarly changing my life and we all cried together as we hugged goodbye. It was a day I’ll never forget.
My trip to Tanzania was the best thing that ever happened to me. It provided me with so many amazing opportunities and experiences that I will carry with me forever. I loved (and still do love) them all so much, and I know that they felt the same way. We all taught each other so much, from language, to customs and culture, to life lessons about being grateful for what you have and the importance of love. This trip was definitely the most outrageous and scary thing I’ve ever done. It was also the best thing I’ve ever done.
I went into the trip thinking about all that I would be able to give, but I never realized how much I would get in return. My perspective on life has completely changed. Since I’ve been home everyone wants to know what it was like and how it was. I tell them all that there is no possible way to describe it, and you will never truly know what an impact it will have on you until you do it. It’s completely and 100% worth every moment.