Volunteer Review: Harlee Schulz – General Care in Tanzania
I initially had the urge to travel to Africa in my second year of college. I was enrolled in a geography course, and it was the first time I truly remember learning about what was going on around the world. When we began talking about Africa, I felt an immediate connection. Although I’ve never been much of a traveler, with every new country in Africa we talked about, I found myself wanting to go there more and more. I found Tanzania especially interesting after we talked about the Maasai people and their culture. So, I started researching a way to go there.
In my research, I found Projects Abroad. It seemed like the most trustworthy site, and it seemed to include almost everything with the price that you pay. I have a passion for children so I knew immediately that I wanted to do a Care Project. After talking with my parents, saving up some money, and doing lots of research, I signed up for a Care Project in Tanzania for three weeks.
I left the first week in May and got home the first day of June. I had no idea what to expect because I had never traveled to a different country alone, much less halfway across the world. I researched where I would be going extensively, and I was nervous the second I stepped into the airport. However, going to Africa with Projects Abroad was one of the best experiences of my life. Having the opportunity to be immersed in a whole different world really gave me a new perspective on what is important, and made me realize how little I actually know about the people around me.
My host family
I stayed in Usa River with a host family while in Arusha, Tanzania. It was furthest from the office, and most of the other volunteers, but I didn’t mind because my host family was wonderful. I always had something great to eat at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had a wonderful roommate from Germany, so I always had someone to talk to. I lived right across from a daladala station (or crazy cramped bus) so it was easy to go into town whenever I did want to go.
Best of all, I could walk to a number of places. I could walk 10 minutes down the road to a very westernized hotel and use their Wi-Fi. I could walk 10 minutes up the road and I’d be at the place I worked. Or, I could walk 15 minutes up the road to a grocery store. That’s something I loved about where I stayed, everything was slow and easy. People walked everywhere but no one was in a tremendous rush to get where they were going. In fact, I would say 90% of the people I walked by would say “hi” to me, if nothing else.
My Care Project
I was placed in a day-care/orphanage in Usa River. From my first day there, the woman in charge made me feel very welcome. The children were beautiful and they loved to hold my hands and truly wanted to learn what was being taught to them. Every morning when I arrived, the children would stand up from their desks and say, “Good morning teacher.” We would start the day off with songs, which was always my favorite part. The children got so excited about singing and dancing. They always made me laugh as they tried to show off and get in front of one another to dance.
Next we would have lesson time, then porridge, and then came lunch. I would walk home for lunch and on my way children leaving other schools would follow me home, and try to fight over who would stand next to me and hold my hands. While walking, I would hear the word “mzungu!” (this is Swahili for white person). Everywhere I walked, I would hear the word “mzungu”, but it never bothered me because I knew it was meant as a greeting not as an insult. In the afternoons, we would do different things like cleaning, going to market for groceries, or taking the children to an open field to run and play.
Traveling around Tanzania
During the weekends I always tried to go somewhere new. I highly suggest this if you are in Tanzania because there are so many great things to see. My first weekend in Tanzania was spent on a safari to Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire National Park. I had only been in Tanzania two days when I left for this safari, and I am very thankful I did. Traveling around with some fellow volunteers in a big safari bus with the top popped open was one of the most magical things I did. It was amazing to see animals roaming freely.
Ngorongoro Crater has got to be the world’s most beautiful zoo ever. I saw so many different types of animals, and I saw them quite close up. It was spectacular. I stayed in a concrete igloo at night, and when I walked from the igloo to the table for dinner, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars before.
On my second weekend, I went with more volunteers to a hot spring. We got to swim in a remote spring that was crystal clear. We explored a new town, and we stayed in a super nice hotel with Wi-Fi and breakfast for only $10. The next morning, we explored an underground cave and went to the base of Kilimanjaro. On my last weekend I stayed in Arusha, but there were still many adventures to have.
My roommate and I went to the Maasai market, definitely the place to go for souvenirs if you are in Arusha; we ate at a wonderful café called Africafe, and then we hiked to a local waterfall. We didn’t realize how far the hike was and ended up walking back to our house in the dark of night, but locals on the street helped us to find a taxi and get us home safely. As my roommate said, “That’s the thing about travelling, you always find people who will help when you are stuck.”
My overall experience
The thing I appreciated the most about my stay in Arusha was seeing how vastly different, and yet strikingly alike, people can be. Yes, many people in Arusha didn’t have air conditioning, washers or dryers and many of them didn’t have cars or TVs. They ate different foods from what I was accustomed to and the people dressed differently than I do. But, underneath everything, I learned that I am similar to most of the people I came in contact with.
My host family and I ate dinner every night as a family, just like I do back home. The children in the orphanage wanted love and attention, just like children do back home. I think that is the beautiful thing about humanity: I traveled thousands of miles to discover that underneath all of our differences, humans are essentially the same.
Through Projects Abroad socials on Thursdays, I met other Americans, a German, a few French, two Canadians, a lady from Australia, and a guy from the Netherlands. We were all from different parts of the world but we could come together and eat, laugh, and sing karaoke. We could come together in a matter of weeks and become friends. Traveling through Projects Abroad not only allows you to help the people in the country you are traveling too, it also allows you to make friends from all over the world. It allows you to learn more about your own strengths that you didn’t even know you had.
I must say, as my first solo trip, and as my first trip across seas, I was certainly not disappointed. Traveling to Arusha made me realize that sometimes in life a person needs to slow down, take a walk, talk to a friend, and not be so caught up in the busyness of the world. As many people told me during my stay, follow Tanzanian time (which basically means that it’s okay to be late wherever you go because everyone else probably will be too).
I saw more natural beauty in Africa than anywhere else I have been. The people I met are happy to see their neighbors and happy to go to the market for fresh avocados. They know what’s important in life, and I think that’s something I took away from my trip. Asante Tanzania! (Thank you Tanzania)
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.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.