I currently work in a UK university as a tutor with students with specific learning differences, mostly dyslexia, although I’ve had a varied career. This includes teaching English as a second language, working in academic skills development, and running my own campsite in France.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to volunteer overseas and at 64, I decided that it was about time I did something about this. I figured that I might hate it but at least I wouldn’t look back and think “I wish I had…” My children were really encouraging saying, “Go on Mum, you’ll have a great time.” And my employer was supportive, giving me additional unpaid leave.
I’ve travelled a lot in developing countries, but I wanted to be more than a tourist and to stay for enough time to develop some understanding of the culture I was in. I also wanted to give something back.
I chose Tanzania because I wanted to go to Africa and had been working with a student who had been on several field trips to Tanzania as part of her course. Her stories about her time there and the friendliness of the Tanzanian people inspired me.
Impressions of Tanzania
I’d heard that Tanzanians were friendly, but the welcome I received exceeded all of my expectations. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt as welcome in any country.
Tanzania is a poor country and the disparity between what I have at home and what local people have is huge. However, I encountered real generosity and willingness to share with me.
One morning, I got talking to two young men eating their breakfast from a stall by the side of the road (It was impossible to walk very far without having a conversation, as everyone wanted to know what a msungu bibi (white/foreign granny) was doing there). They insisted that I share their breakfast and bought me tea to go with it. Similarly, I made friends with Mama Lulu, who sold snacks outside one of the schools, and she would always give me a sample when I walked past.
My Teaching placement
I chose a Teaching placement as I thought that it would make best use of my skills. Although I’m a qualified teacher, all of my experience has been with students in college or university, so when I found myself teaching a class of two to four year olds, I felt a bit out of my depth at first.
The local teachers were lovely, friendly, and supportive and soon I felt completely at home. The children were enthusiastic and receptive to my ideas, especially my homemade play dough and carrot printing. It was so rewarding to see them learning and developing, even in the short time I was there.
I learned so much from my time at the school and I cried when it was time to leave. I plan to go back.
Living with a host family
My host family was lovely and I came to feel like part of the family. I appreciated having family meals with my hosts and other volunteers, having time to talk with my hosts and learning from them.
The accommodation was simple, clean and very safe – everything that you could want.
Independent travel opportunities
I was lucky enough to travel a bit while I was in Tanzania. I had a long weekend in Zanzibar, where the beaches look like postcards of paradise islands, and I visited several of the national parks. At these parks, I slept in a tent and saw all of the ‘Big 5’: lions, rhinoceros, buffalos, elephants and leopards. I visited a Maasai village and the homes of the children in my school, which was fascinating.
My main concern before I left England was that I was much older than the other volunteers. I found it really didn’t matter and I had a wonderful time. I plan to do it again!