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I recently travelled to Mwanza, Tanzania with Youth Challenge International, to volunteer with a local NGO, Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization as a Monitoring and Evaluation Innovator. While I was there, I lived in a rural village with a host family who had 13 children.
Before I left for Tanzania, I was told that my host Mama (mother) had 6 children living at home. Imagine my surprise as I pulled up in the middle of the night to my host family’s home to discover my host Mama leaving for a party and a small sized classroom of children waiting for me. That first night the oldest sibling was the only one to speak to me: “Karibu (welcome), feel free,” she mentioned many times. During my first few days whenever I was approaching the children ran away laughing, and hid behind the doorways or potted plants. I quickly came to understand that the majority of the children living on the family compound had lost their parents due to illness. My Tanzanian Mama and Baba (father) had taken the children in to become a part of their family.
Everything was different in Mwanza. I walked to work on dirt – and often flooded – roads, past farmers and free roaming cows and goats. I took cold showers and slept under a bug net. There were daily power outages and we only had access to an unsanitary water supply. The ants bit, and my host sisters and brothers ate their meals with their hands while sitting on the kitchen floor. It was easy in those first few days to feel isolated and a bit misunderstood.
After a few days, the children became less shy around me. As I did not speak Kiswahili and many of the children did not speak English, we had to find ways to begin to communicate with one another. One night during a power failure, I was wearing my headlamp and began to make shadow puppets on the kitchen wall. As the children and I played, I continued to ask them for the Kiswahili names of the projected animals. After this, the children took every opportunity to point to objects, tell me the word in Kiswahili and to ask for the English word. We began to learn from, and about, each other.
The village I was living in consisted only of other family homes and I initially believed that the nearest store was in town, a 40-minute dala dala (a minibus share taxi) ride away. However, as time went on, the community structure began to reveal itself to me. I soon learned that the little straw hut where two women cooked over an open fire was a restaurant serving the best chapati and ginger tea around; the house a small ways down the dirt path also doubled as the local general shop where you could purchase soda, maji baridi (cold water), phone credit and even toothbrushes; and the farmer I passed on my way to work was the man who sold my host Mama the vegetables that I ate every night for dinner. Everything I needed existed around me – I just hadn’t learned how to look properly. In Canada, stores, streets and even bus stops are clearly marked, but where I lived in Mwanza, you are only privy to this type of knowledge when you are a member of the community.
My host sisters and brothers work incredibly hard everyday to complete their household chores. They start their day at 6 a.m. with a prayer and have the house cleaned before breakfast. They are the ones responsible for the majority of the cooking, cleaning and often, taking care of each other.
I wanted to be included in all aspects of a Tanzanian family life. I helped to prepare meals, went to the market and played games with my host sisters. I helped my host sisters and brothers with their homework and went to church with my host family. I even learned how to braid my host sisters’ hair! I found myself becoming a member of the household.
By the end of my six-week stay, I had realized that regardless of differences in language, culture or religious beliefs, when you take the time to understand, live with and care for someone, they become a part of your family. I’ve heard it said that once you have travelled to far away lands you will never again feel at home; your heart is split between the family you were born into and the one you create for yourself. It was hard to leave my new family behind, but I know I will always be welcome back home.
-Stephanie Hanson, Youth Innovator, Tanzania, 2013
YCI is currently recruiting for an 8-week project in Tanzania this May 6 to July 1st to work with our partners on leadership, health and education initiatives.
Carly Court was a volunteer in Guatemala with YCI in 2010 and then returned to the Toronto office in January 2013 as YCI’s Volunteer Program Assistant. She recently arrived in Mwanza as a Youth Innovator to support YCI’s partners. Read about Carly’s experience in Tanzania by following her blog The New Smart.
“Travelling alone. As a girl. In East Africa.
If you want a genuine reaction when you are informing people about your upcoming travel plans, open with the latter statement.
Shock value aside, there are considerable challenges and rewards that come with working alone as a YCI Innovator. This is especially true when working in a city that is new to both yourself and the organization you are representing. YCI’s programming is still relatively recent here in Mwanza, as there has only been one YCI volunteer here before me. Partnerships with local organizations are still fresh and developing. Speaking of developing, my YCI in-country Program Manager and I are still learning how to navigate Mwanza’s dala-dala interpretation of public transportation. So far, all things considered, I have encountered many challenges- from coordinating and scheduling trainings, to finding someone to hang out with during my time off. But one of the true joys of travelling and volunteering abroad is turning challenges into adventures, and adventures into rewarding experiences and memories…“
My first few weeks in Accra have given me a small taste of West Africa. As I write, I sit hear listening to the sounds of this city. Vehicles constantly honking and horns of food vendors layered on voices from churches and schools. This organized chaos of sights and sounds has quickly become familiar in my few short weeks here. I spent the first few weeks acquainting myself with the city and partner organization with which I work, YES-Ghana.
YES-Ghana is a youth empowerment NGO with its head office in Accra and networks across Ghana. I am working from this office to conduct research within the organization. The work I am doing focuses around building functionality and capacity, which will aid the organization in sustainability and effectiveness. My work focuses less on program delivery, and more on effectively managing the structures and organization, which works to deliver the programs. Over the past few weeks, I have been working with the partner to establish a capacity building work plan. This plan outlines some of the possible future undertakings of the organization to make sure it is functioning at full capacity in its operations and programming. During the remainder of my time here, I will work with the staff at YES-Ghana to create personnel policies and other manuals to guide this NGO.
Working within the partner office has given me a unique perspective on the operation of a non-profit in a developing country. Through this complete submersion into the operations, I remain keenly aware of the difficulties of development and non-profit work. However, the value in what is being done far outweighs the difficulty. I hope that in the next stages of my placement and the placement of those who will carry out the implementation of the remainder of the work-plan with YES-Ghana, functional and operational sustainability for the partner organization and the youth it serves will be achieved.
-Tammy Lambert, Youth Innovator, Tanzania 2010 and Ghana 2011
YCI is currently recruiting for a Small Business Development Innovator Team in Tanzania this Winter. Applications are due on Monday October 24th.