Before I came to Tanzania, I would picture Africa, a world so far away, as a dusty dry place where children played without shoes on their feet and without food in their stomachs. I had compiled this image from World Vision commercials and numerous campaigns with the aim of sending clothing and shoes to Africa. Fortunately, contrary to what World Vision had shown me, the Tanzanian reality I have seen is not so desolate. Granted I realize my scope of the situation in Tanzania is still extremely limited, and specific to Zanzibar, I have nevertheless changed some of the stereotypes and perceptions I came with.
To start, when I would think about children playing without shoes, I would think to myself, “how awful, their feet must hurt so much, I feel so bad for them!” but I have realized that they are perfectly fine not wearing shoes. Sure, if you grow up wearing shoes and you have to walk on rocks – it’s not going to be fun. But if you grow up playing barefoot in the dirt, your feet adapt to that environment. I played soccer with some of the kids in my neighbourhood, and they race faster over rocks and dirt barefoot than I did in shoes. The point of this story is that coming from my world, where most wear shoes, NOT having shoes seems like a terrible thing. I could only see their situation from my perspective. It’s a small example, but it can be applied to much larger situations. I must remember that my views of the world are influenced by my experiences and my perceptions, and that those perceptions can alter reality.
You really do have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, or no shoes, before you can begin to understand where they are coming from. I feel lucky to be working in a politically stable environment, where most of the residents have access to water, shelter, and food. I have to remind myself that just as Western Canada is different from Eastern Canada, one side of Africa is vastly different from the other. I can’t paint the whole continent with one brush stroke. Each country is different, each community is different, and I need to broaden my knowledge of each place to confront the assumptions that I have created. Working with people with unique attitudes and opinions, and in elements out of my comfort zone and experience, is helping me grow and build a more colourful view of the world.
-Jean Lawson, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania 2012
Jean is roughly three weeks into her 6 week project in Zanzibar. To find out more about what our volunteers are working on in Tanzania, Check out the Tanzania section of our blog.