Zanzibar Reflections

Stonetown street activity

I traveled as a volunteer to Zanzibar in January of 2007 and stayed on as a YCI program assistant until April 2008.  Sometimes my life in Tanzania feels like a strange dream I had and at other points the memories are so sharp it feels like I might wake up there tomorrow.  It has been almost four years (!!!) since I came home from Tanzania and my reflections on the experience shift frequently.  I feel like I have more questions about international development than before I left, I wonder and worry about the best models for empowerment, and I struggle with my disconnect from the youth centre where I spent so much time.  The experience has, however, defined how I live my life in Canada and strengthened me into someone with much more direction than before.

First of all, I returned with a drive to further my education.  We are so blessed in Canada to have such amazing access to learning and I had not internalized that before traveling to Tanzania.  Realizing this propelled me into choosing teaching as a career. The confidence I had gained in Tanzania definitely helped me succeed in the U.B.C. teacher education program.  I now work as a learning assistance teacher and French teacher and have just started my masters in early literacy, with a focus on multicultural education.  I am committed to working with new Canadians, as I remember how scary and isolating it could be in Zanzibar when I couldn’t communicate my wants and needs or showcase my strengths due to language barriers.

Second, I was so moved by the fierce loyalty and sense of community amongst the people I worked with in Zanzibar.  The combination of seeing extended families (which seemed to include cousins, neighbours, friends etc.) support one another through life and my own homesickness made me so much more appreciative of the amazing people in my life.  I am grateful every day for my family and friends, in a way I wasn’t before I left.  Also, my Canadian friends that I volunteered and worked with in Zanzibar are so dear and important to me and are a constant source of inspiration in my life.

While my life for the past four years has been very rooted and settled in Vancouver, I know I am building a new skill set to return to international development in some way.  I am vice president of the B.C. council for the International Reading Association and I hope to connect that work to global literacy projects in the future.  My most prominent goal is to address the inequalities in education for girls and women.

I miss Zanzibar sunsets, sugar cane juice, and the amazing soup our landlady “Big Mama” sold outside her home.  I will never forget the colour of the Indian Ocean under a full moon or watching kids dance at our weekly talent nights.  I miss it, but I missed being home more.  I am so happy to have lived that life and I know I will go back in some capacity in the future.

-Kate Spence, YCI Youth Ambassador and IYIP Alumni, Tanzania 2007.

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


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