Connecting and Making Connections

Written by Jordan Walker

Jordan is a member of the Centre for Social Innovation custom group who recently returned from Zanzibar, Tanzania. She worked on programming and facilitating a series of entrepreneurship workshops in partnership with the Vocational Training Authority of Zanzibar. She brings an academic and professional background in international development to the project, and recently completed a five-month internship at the YCI Toronto office.

 Many people will disagree when I say we are disconnected in the 21st century. It would seem that we are even more connected now than ever before. In today’s world of lightning-fast internet and constantly being “plugged in,” being able to connect has never been easier. Though we talk about using technology to connect instantly to people all over the world, the reality is that, in my experience living and working in various countries, there is a huge difference between the way we connect (Facebook, texting, Whatsapp) and making genuine connections with people.

In addressing this issue, I always think about my first experience living abroad in Chile in 2007. Cell phones were widely used, but they were basic and used mostly for quick phones calls. Texting was rare and smartphones were nonexistent. Most people had never heard of Facebook. By the end of my year there, I could already see a change in the amount of young people using Facebook and communicating mostly via text messages, but these were still fairly new concepts. When I returned six years later, Facebook was as pervasive as it is in Canada, and peoples’ addictions to their smartphones, Whatsapp, and other electronic communications was as extreme, if not more so, than in North America. The shift from making real connections to plugging in and connecting online was astounding.

In Zanzibar, I see what I saw in Chile the first time I was there. Cell phones are a huge part of life, but people generally pick up the phone rather than text, and rarely continue on long conversations unless they are face to face with the person. I constantly see knots of people standing together and chatting; the norm is to ask very personal questions about everybody you meet, and the aim is to truly get to know people. While standing in a print shop, our local volunteer Omar began chatting with two complete strangers and learned that they were Wright brothers-esque inventors who had designed and built their own car, hot air balloon and recently a helicopter! After a short chat, they were happy to come to our entrepreneurship workshop later that week to share their story with our attendees.


I will not argue that technology is only negative; I think its implications in the international development field alone are invaluable. However I do believe that it is important that we recognize our own lack of genuine interpersonal connection in the Western world. I sincerely hope that Zanzibar retains its culture of open, friendly person-to-person connection as access to electronic means of connecting grows.

Chosen Differences

Written by Christine Moynihan

This was my first experience in Africa – and it has been extraordinary. I left Toronto in minus 20 degree temperatures and arrived to + 30 degrees. Really, a most welcome change!

Zanzibar is a vibrant, busy, beautiful and historic island and I could happily have been “just a tourist” here. However, YCI has given me the great opportunity to see places that an ordinary tourist would never see; an opportunity to live with a local family, to experience Zanzibar as a Zanzibarian – albeit in a small and limited way.

By far the most wonderful part of this journey has been the opportunity to meet and work with the local volunteers at YCI Tanzania and I want to tell you about one in particular – Sharifa Said Ally.


Sharifa has been our guide and translator as Rachel Ouellette and I delivered  four workshops on Environmental Sustainability to 4 different secondary  schools in and around Zanzibar town. In fact, by the second workshop,  Sharifa had become our co-teacher and by the last of the four workshops, she  was really the lead teacher. It was sheer delight to watch her so easily and  gracefully grow into a leadership role.

Sharifa is twenty years old, was born and raised in Zanzibar and is from a  family of four (two brothers and one sister).   Though, like most children in  Zanzibar, she studied English in school, she did not begin intensive English  study until about 6 months ago – and is already an excellent translator. She  would love to study further and perhaps be a teacher someday. Youth  unemployment in Zanzibar is extremely high – almost 70% – and Sharifa as  told me that she believes that her volunteer work with YCI will help her to get  a good job in the future. I will say that wherever she ends up, they will be  lucky to get her!

When I asked her what she wanted me to write about her, she asked me to  specifically mention the importance to her of her Muslim faith, and to  write also about the importance to her of her dress – which, according to the  beliefs of her faith, means that women dress modestly – with long dresses,  full-length sleeves, with head and hair covered at all times when out in public. She very much chooses to dress this way and finds it both appropriate and comfortable. (I did wonder if, in the heat of Zanzibar, this type of dress was oppressively hot – and she adamantly said no, it was quite comfortable.)

As you can see from the photo, she is a beautiful and modern young woman – and her comments to me about her dress are a vital reminder to us to be always aware of and respectful towards chosen differences.

Reflecting on my time in Zanzibar

Written by Jeffrey Padou

Jeffrey is a Youth Ambassador who worked with YCI in Zanzibar in Spring/Summer of 2014.

In Zanzibar, Tanzania, my colleague (Harpreet) and I worked on the Emerging Leaders program. We specifically focused on the second unit of that program which emphasized leadership. In conjunction with this program we also conducted teaching and training on the subjects of English, computers, civic education, CV writing and interview techniques.

I shall highlight that all of the programs we conducted had a tremendous impact upon the participants. English language skills were highly coveted by participants. Computer skills were valued because they allowed students to “get with the times” as well as having applications for personal and job-related purposes. Civic education was something many of the youth were passionate about, and they were looking for ways to learn these skills and share them with others. Although there was a lower number of participants who attended programs on interview techniques and CV writing, those who did attend, loved the topic.

By and far the program that was most impactful was Emerging Leaders. The program had the highest amount of participants and practical training. The participants loved the topic of leadership and the workshops were very impactful- both for the participants and the facilitators – at least for those who were willing to learn about foreign culture and listen to the needs and demands of local people. My recommendation is that this and other such programs are continued.

The experience that one takes away from volunteering with YCI is worthwhile and life-changing – something I will always have with me. The relationships I built with the participants, my colleagues, overseas staff, and the community made it impossible to walk away un-changed.

While in Zanzibar, I found that a major problem facing youth within their community was a lack of both job opportunities, as well as lack of mobility within organizations and industries. The former is the most challenging of all. There are youth in Zanzibar that have Bachelors degrees and college training who cannot even find a job. Many youth in Zanzibar are educated, yet have a hard time finding employment because of poverty, the lack of opportunity, and the disconnect between the government’s interests and the needs of citizens, particularly youth.

Volunteering has changed my outlook, in a way. I am from a foreign culture, but due to so many years living in the Western world I have somewhat not experienced this reality to its fullest extent. This experience has changed my life. It has taught me compassion, and a care for the whole global community and its citizens. I have also learned the power of innovation, leadership, and the resilient youth which all highlight that anything is possible!

My advice for anyone thinking of volunteering with YCI is plain and simple: go with a willingness to learn rather than expecting to teach or help – you will find the impact tremendous. Have a compassionate heart, be innovative and creative, be dedicated and have a tremendous work ethic, and lastly, be open-minded.

Since volunteering with YCI, I have been busy at school, but I also have a vision of impacting my community in Ottawa. Volunteering did change my life. I originally never planned on going to school for teaching or focusing on education; however after this experience I am considering going into the teaching field and specifically teaching abroad, perhaps EFL or ESL.

Tour guide by day. Hero by night. 

Written by: Shilbee Kim

We walked in the dark for about 10 minutes, side stepping rocks and waiting for our eyes to adjust. It was a full moon.  After every few houses we’d hear greetings from neighbours walking by or sitting on the footsteps of their homes to our local volunteer, Omar, who was leading the way.

Omar then said, “We’re here!”

We stepped into a madrasa made of bricks and down a hallway filled with shoes, we entered a room with one lightbulb, a clock that wasn’t ticking, a blackboard, and a bookshelf with a few English books. The madrasa is an open brick-building with no doors but several “rooms” divided by walls. During the day, the madrasa is used for Quran teachings and in the evenings, it was taken over by eager students who were learning from a volunteer. The madrasa was built by a lady who owned the land and wanted to give back to the community. On the floor mat, a group of kids between the ages of 5 and 13 were sitting quietly but squirming anxiously. They were waiting for Mr. Omar’s English class.

Omar is a tour guide and a YCI local volunteer by day; an English teacher by night. He volunteers 4 times a week to teach English. It all started when one of the current students asked him for an English lesson. Soon afterwards, other kids flocked to Omar for more classes. Omar, too, was taught when he was a little kid. His hero at the time was Muhammad and his impeccable English skills today are largely thanks to Muhammad who gave his evenings to teaching.

In the Zanzibari education system, there are government and private schools. By the time a student reaches secondary school, most classes are taught in English. The problem is that during primary school, a classroom can be as big as 80 students per teacher. Some teachers, Omar explains, are obliged to teach math and science in broken English during secondary school. This compounds the problem of students’ abilities to excel in school, a prerequisite to get into a university.

He felt that one way to help this situation was follow the footsteps of Muhammad. One by the one the students stood in front of the class reciting their introductions Omar taught him. “My name is Maryam and my father’s name is Abdul and my mother’s name is Laylat.”

While Omar continued his lesson, I can overhear another class going on in Swahili behind one of the brick walls. The only words I can make out because they were in English were “colonialism” “Europe” and “Africa.” Omar later explained that there were many other local volunteers like him – especially those who graduated from university and are unemployed. There are 4 evening classes like this on his street alone for different subject matters (science, religion, history, etc). This particular class was for students who needed extra classes on history so that they can ace their national exam that determines university acceptance. The room was packed. Everyone sitting on the floor with one instructor in the middle holding a book in his hand. One lightbulb.

Omar expressed some challenges – mothers who disapproved and didn’t think that he was a serious teacher to feeling burnout to needing more English books, teaching supplies, desks, and the list goes on. But his determination for these students to be “more than him” keeps him going. Day in and day out.

“Volunteering is important… If you help people, they will help others… and they will help more people and then you will change the world. I hope that some of these kids will want to do the same.”

“Zanzibar refuses to be ugly”

Written by: Tonni Brodber

The older I get the more I see that countries are like people. In many ways they very literally manifest the general personality of their population. And…you meet their representatives first. The suave, funny, well dressed, knows what to say, rarely awkward Dan(a) Gorgan. Then after a few meetings that particular face starts to slip and whoever greets you shows up, Messy, Itchy, Needy or Grumpy. Same thing with countries; whether the country is in the Caribbean, the Pacific, Europe, Africa, usually when tourist-ing it is hard to get a glimpse behind the beautiful ‘quaint’ buildings oh so full of charters you say to yourself, anyone around who will listen and social media. The people seem so happy to be helping you out with directions or a recommendation, or getting you a drink. (*Except Barbados…really lovely people but after so many years on the plantation rarely do you find folks content with the service industry). Then after a few weeks or months, you start to see cracks. It is not that the representative isn’t real, it is just one of the many faces.

Be warned… there are countries, like people, who are so dysfunctional that they can’t muster up a half decent representative.

Throughout most of my career when I moved, I’ve been lucky enough to be introduced to the country through its representative. Oh how charming this neighbourhood is! How wonderful and happy the people are! Well being a volunteer is a whole different ballgame. In this case I met almost all of Zanzibar until, I bucked up on its representative almost by accident.

I live in a lovely village about 10 minutes across a playfield and a few school grounds from where I work. It is where people live. The village has embraced me. They check in on me sit with me, stare at me and practice Swahili with me. Mama who cooks for me looks wounded when I am full without finishing the meal or *gasp* I ate out. Mama’s son is 7 and he works with me on my Swahili and I work with him on English. The people are probably Zanzibar’s best face; they are that increasingly rare combination of genuinely warm and friendly, curious but never cynical.

However, there is not much to see in my village and district except people, houses, dust and not properly disposed of garbage. I sidestepped a razor the other day. In all of that, there is something I can’t quite put my finger on about the place. It is what it is and in spite of its blemishes it is comfortable in all its glory.

In spite of Dave Chapelle’s many warnings I’m trying to keep it reheaalll. So I keep trying to take pictures of the garbage and the dust clouds, to highlight the many faces of the space, but the camera catches it as flashes of light among the grass waiting to be found.

Zanzibar refuses to be ugly.

I met Zanzibar’s representative the other day. It began when one day my colleague felt I needed a proper tour of Stone Town. So our first stop was the former Slave Market now Anglican Cathedral thanks to Dr Livingstone, I presume. It was heavy and beautiful, I wanted to stay and explore but I didn’t want to share the space.


 After the tour of the Slave Market we just meandered through the ‘streets’ of Stone Town and it was like I was in a fairy tale. The buildings are stunning, even the ones that a faded are still more than just reminiscent of their former glory days. That glory seems seeped in the wood and stone and of course the sea. So it was a pleasure to get acquainted with Zanzibar’s Dan(a) Gorgan, Dan(a) Dadda, but by then I was already hooked, line and sinker.







Photos provided by: Amanda Armstrong, YCI Staff

If I could turn back time

Written by: Sean Brathwaite
About the author:

Sean Brathwaite works with Canada World Youth – a youth focused organization in Canada.  He is delighted to be participating in the two week YCI CSI Innovation project in Tanzania.

Sean Brathwhaite-T15-2CSI

  “If I could turn back time”…kept playing over and over in my head after my first day in Zanzibar.  All I could think about was my early childhood years in Barbados.   It felt like only yesterday I left my birth place, instead of nearly forty years ago.  Everything seemed the same…the house, the dala dalas, the chickens, the fruit trees, even the lingo -“I’m going to Town,” “Up the road, down the road,” “Going to the shop.” All familiar.

I heard my parents’ voice in my conscience telling me to turn off the lights, don’t waste the water, waste not, want not.  It reminded me of a simpler life.

I realized I have a very cushy life Canada, maybe too cushy.  I questioned myself about my wants and needs.  What do I really want?  What do I really need?  I do not know.  I do not miss television, cable, reliable electricity or hot water.  I deal  without blinking an eye.  My time in Tanzania keeps reminding me that “It’s the simple things in life that counts.”

Hakuna Matata – no worries.

To go or not to go – there’s really no question…

Written by: Meaghan Stephens

Inevitably, when mentioning to people that you will be traveling to Tanzania for 3 months, one receives all kinds of comments ranging from “that’s wonderful, good for you” to “Africa? Are you sure?” Then there’s the overwhelming concern expressed over “Ebola” and the persistent “be carefuls” as Africa (yes, apparently the entire continent) is a “dangerous place.”

Ebola Map

FYI – Tanzania is on the east side of Africa.

I had known that I wanted to volunteer somewhere for a long time now, and the opportunity that YCI provided in Tanga, Tanzania sounded as good as any! Quite frankly, I myself wasn’t so sure what to expect upon arriving, and had to question my own sanity in picking Africa as the destination of choice to experience independent travel for the first time.

Meaghan However, it only took a few short days to discover and understand that our perceptions are completely and utterly false. It seems as though the western world has cultivated this culture of fear toward Africa and the myriad of countries that it’s comprised of. I’m not quite sure how this came to be…but I’m almost certain that the media is to blame!

So – I will try to set the record straight, since the nightly news can’t (or won’t), and the UNICEF ads (while an important cause) don’t quite do it justice. Perhaps you’ve considered traveling to Africa before but weren’t sure if you should, or maybe you’ve never had the desire…either way I’m going to tell you that it is WELL worth your while.

Tanzania alone has a varied and incredibly diverse geographical landscape. There’s an abundance of tropical islands (Zanzibar, Mafi and Pemba to name a few) for those that crave the heat, and enjoy snorkelling, diving and relaxing beachside.

There are the beautiful and vast coastal towns (such as Tanga) that while busy,  still exude a sleepy and laid back vibe.

Beach2Then there is a vibrant city at its heart (Dar Es salaam) that is bustling with universities, colleges, an astounding array of entrepreneurs, and has double the population of Toronto! In contrast there are also rural villages scattered across the countryside where the people work incredibly hard to live off the land, and take pleasure in the simple luxuries of life (such as has having clean drinking water).

There are national parks located throughout the country all of which boast incredible animals and rich biodiversity. Tanzania is also the home of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in all of Africa, which is climbable by most anyone with the time to acclimatize properly and the determination to do it.


There are multiple regions throughout the country that live in the relative and stable comfort of 15-25 degree temps year round (helps being along the equator) and a few that get downright cold (approaching 0 degrees), and that’s just a small sampling of the scenery, which hardly does it justice!

HomeI can also confidently tell you that the population here is comprised of some of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve ever met.

Greetings are important, so there is no shortage of them -whether you are meeting someone new, riding the bus, or walking down a road, there’s always a hello to be had. It’s seems so much easier to meet people and feel connected when everyone approaches each other with respect, eye contact and genuine interest in where you come from and what you’re doing.

Meaghan and friend

Much like Canadians, Tanzanians also pride themselves on remaining peaceful- something they work diligently at and are grateful for.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t dangers here, because there are. I can assure you that a multitude of dangers will exist anywhere you go in this world (the news will surely fill you in on these…). People will continue to thieve and assault, accidents will continue to happen, and diseases will continue to spread. But, it is possible to assess your risk, use common sense, and act in a way that mitigates some of the danger, just as we do at home!

Group of youth

So the next time you ask yourself where to go for that hard earned vacation, a little R & R, or maybe even to help develop and share your talents with others (volunteering is an incredible way to see a country), don’t shy away from Africa as a viable option. You will find incredible adventures, scenery, and people that will welcome you with warm words and open arms :)