Reflection on Zanzibar: John Lam

The winding streets of Stonetown

I was lucky enough to volunteer overseas with Youth Challenge International in the summer of 2009.  I was placed in Zanzibar, Tanzania.  After looking through numerous volunteering opportunities, I decided to apply with YCI because of their emphasis with working alongside local youth in developing sustainable projects.

As a pharmacy student at the time, I wanted to learn more about global health issues while improving my communication skills and immersing myself in a different culture.  After a week of pre-departure seminars and a night’s stay in Dar Es Salaam, two other volunteers and I finally arrived in Zanzibar.  Behind the breathtaking coastline on Unguja Island was a town of over 650,000 (census 2002).  Present day Zanzibar is a mosaic of African, Arab, European and Indian influences that can be seen in Zanzibar cuisine and architecture.  Living with a homestay family and using the Dala Dala for transportation quickly immersed me into life as a Zanzibarian.

During my time in Zanzibar, I was involved in biweekly computer and English classes, as well as Ushujaa, an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign.  I can’t say enough about the students in the class.  Since we were fairly close in age, we often talked before and after class about anything….life in Canada, global issues, and their goals and dreams.  Our conversations were riveting and meaningful.  Living with a homestay family was another wonderful experience.  I’m glad I still stay in touch with the family as well as some of the students I met during my time overseas.

I was also able to see firsthand the health issues that affect Zanzibar.  Clean water, proper sanitation, malaria prevention and HIV awareness are on the forefronts of community based health initiatives.  Through further post-secondary studies, I hope to develop skills that will be useful for addressing these issues. (Plus, it’ll give me an excuse to come back to Tanzania!)

Every so often I find myself thinking about my time in Tanzania.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year ago that I was beginning my journey in Zanzibar. The sight of people everywhere, the smells of the roadside vendor food and car exhaust, and the sound of car horns and the “Call to Prayer” are things I still remember resoundingly.  Looking back, I am so grateful that I had an opportunity to leave my comfort zone, and be exposed to another way of life half a world away. The music, cuisine and laid back lifestyle were things that I would definitely appreciate back home. Yet, there are things that I certainly won’t be longing for anytime soon, like bucket baths, squat toilets, blaring car horns in the middle of the night, and random electricity or water outages.  Having said that, I wouldn’t trade those things in for the experience that I had.  I hope to go back someday.

– John Lam, YCI Youth Ambassador, Tanzania 2009

Want to learn what other YCI alumni are up to? Check out our blog’s Alumni Update category.

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