Volunteer Review: Siobhan P., General Care Projects in Tanzania
Every travel book I read prior to my trip to Tanzania advised of a culture shock, but it’s not one I could have possibly envisaged. My first time in Africa turned out to be the most rewarding 2 months, where I made friends for life among both Tanzanians and other volunteers.
Nervously landing at Kilimanjaro Airport, I was greeted by the Projects Abroad coordinator and taxi driver whose accents were, to begin with, completely beyond my comprehension.
I was made very welcome by my host family; my host mother greeted me with a hug and introduced herself as my new mama - ‘Mama Africa’. I arrived at nearly 11pm, there was a mass of food waiting for me, and I was lead to meet the family and volunteers. I quickly settled in, befriending my ‘new brothers and sisters’, with who I practiced my Swahili and shared stories about our contrasting cultures.
From my first day at St Gabriel’s orphanage I was keen to meet everyone and begin the water project. The volunteers and I soon made friends - we joked about our surreal experiences in Tanzania and sung as we dug trenches and laid pipes. The excitable children always went crazy to see us working and laughed at our attempts to speak to them in Swahili, much like many of the locals.
The sisters running the school welcomed and thanked us every day for our work, while providing the usual African buffet of food and tea at lunchtime. It is there that I formed great friendships with some of the volunteers and also learnt a lot about the reality and hardships of African life. I came to appreciate how hard many Tanzanians work for little reward; I saw this in the sisters of St. Gabriel’s immediate concern was for the orphan children they treated as their own.
Other than Ugali (which I thought was awful, but is still worth trying!) the food I was provided with was delicious and always plentiful. African servings can be a challenge and there is no chance of a volunteer going hungry in Tanzania, where food is a big part of their welcoming ways.
Every Thursday the Projects Abroad staff and volunteers met for a social dinner at a restaurant, and would then congregate again later at an African style nightclub. I had some unforgettable nights out at Via Via, an outdoor club with a dance space under a marquee. There I sung along to a mix of Reggae and Celion Dion on the karaoke and looked on in awe at the dance culture the Tanzanians would so freely embrace.
Every day I was shocked by the cultural differences and African customs, which became a part of my day to day life. Passing Tanzanians often handed me their children to hold in the street or on the local transport in order to start conversations, and ‘marriage me’ could be heard as a common greeting to unsuspecting tourists.
I learnt to respond to ‘Mambo Mzungu?’ (‘How are things, white person?’) and was often spoken to by locals as though they thought they knew me. The Tanzanians showed equal interest in my culture as I held in theirs and I became friends with people I had almost nothing in common with. Our dissimilar cultures were apparent when the locals would laugh at my shocked reactions to see women carrying their bodyweight in branches on their heads, and elderly women ploughing relentlessly with the strength of young men.
I used the Dala dalas every day, which is a very cheap, initially quite terrifying ‘mini bus’, which can at first have you laughing in fear but leaves you feeling invincible, once you’re accustomed to it.
I was, to begin with, apprehensive about my second project after most of my new volunteer friends returned home. However it was the care project at Faraja Orphanage that made my trip to Tanzania as memorable as it is.
The children were very friendly; quickly attaching themselves to mine and the other volunteer’s arms and never seeming to tire of posing for photos. Faraja (or Mr Jesus) of Faraja Orphanage (an eccentric but brilliant man) shared a few of the children’s shocking stories with me and we visited some of their homes to check on their families.
While I had anticipated seeing some of Tanzania’s most deprived communities, it was quite different physically being among those struggling with famine and disease. Having to accept that so much of the country is starving made my trip very difficult at times, but it was also immensely invaluable, to witness the impact my short time had made.
I grew attached to one young boy in particular, Baraka, who made Tanzania all the more difficult for me to leave. I became known at the orphanage and in the local area as ‘Mama Baraka’, which was constantly yelled at me, and I was shown unconstrained thanks and blessings by everyone for my offer to sponsor him to start school.
I went to Faraja’s church one Sunday, where the locals met in their best outfits and sung uninhibited in their celebrations, whilst the children danced on the platform. The hymns and readings were in Swahili, but the energy was so atmospheric; I was still very much able to appreciate the revelry.
After one home visit I and another teacher took a three year old child to hospital after she fell into an open fire. The treatment cost the equivalent of £5, which her mother could not afford. It was these realities which put the country’s destitution into perspective for me, which I struggled greatly to comprehend.
I remain in good contact with the orphanage and Baraka’s school, and every day I appreciate the time in Tanzania I was so fortunate to have had.
Having always wanted to experience Africa I was drawn to the placements available in Tanzania. The water sanitation project allowed me to make a long-term difference to an orphanage, where the water supply was, until then, unreliable and unsafe. My second project meant I was able to teach English, my subject of study, where the language is fundamental for prospective jobs in Tanzania.
Typically I would arrive home after a long day to a table full of food and a family who became quick to test my Swahili. I was out all day staying at the orphanage until the evening, settling in Faraja’s home as if it were my own. I returned every day with a hundred new memories of Tanzania and the continually startling city made my experience one which I couldn’t possibly recapitulate. I am keen to travel and volunteer a lot more through Projects Abroad, where I know I will have a reliable organization I can turn to before and throughout my trip.
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.