Jambo! My name is Fawaz Suleiman and in April of 2010, I applied and was accepted into an 8 week project with Youth Challenge International in Zanzibar, Tanzania. I was very excited upon hearing of my acceptance into the program for several reasons. Firstly, I was excited by the opportunity to work in youth development with YCI and the local grassroots organizations YCI had partnered with. Secondly, though my previous work and travels had made me familiar with the African context, Zanzibar was a new area to me which presented new and exciting experiences, prospects and challenges.
Zanzibar is an archipelago located off the coast of Tanzania in east Africa. The diversity of its inhabitants is only matched by the warmth of its people. With historical links to Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, this diversity is not only visible in the ethnic makeup of the island, but also reflected in the architecture, culture, languages and religions practiced.
As a Youth Ambassador, my main responsibilities were to coordinate youth development programs focused on delivering professional skills training and sexual health awareness campaigns. My workday often consisted of preparing materials and lesson plans for the computer workshops I ran three times a week, (an advanced level, a beginner level and a practical). Participants were very excited – often showing up early – to take part in the workshops as some had little experience utilizing computers on a regular basis.
Additionally, I participated in the implementation and organization of sexual health campaigns called `USHUJAA` – Tswahili for the courageous one – designed to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and local testing and treatment facilities. The campaigns focused on HIV/AIDS contraction, prevention and the stigma often associated with it. The campaigns intentionally delivered its message through popular media, including music, plays and dance to not only to attract the target youth audience but also to do so in a way that is entertaining with long-lasting effects. One of the most memorable moments was witnessing entire communities coming out to not only watch but actively engage and participate in the campaigns with open minds and a determined purpose to address and tackle the community’s challenges.
My home stay was one of the most exciting parts of my time in Zanzibar. I lived as my host family lived and ate as they ate. They were often curious as to life back home in Canada and they were as eager to teach me Tswahili as they were for me to teach them English, which I was happy to do. Like most families, they got together after a long day at school or work to talk about their day, have dinner and watch a little television (Soap Opera shows seemed to be a favourite with my homestay family). My meals often consisted of local foods like ugali, fish, palau, cassava, potatoes and bananas to name a few. Being an island, seafood is available in abundance. One of the main highlights of my time was when my homestay family took me on a tour of the Forodani market, where all sorts of seafoods are displayed out for locals and tourists alike to eat by the sea.
My advice for volunteers looking to volunteer abroad with YCI is as follows.
- Work on as many areas of your project as you can: it’s very rewarding work!
- Have a backup plan: power cuts are frequent and you’ll often need to be flexible.
- Get to know the locals: They are often as eager as you are to learn about the new culture they are exposed to through you.
- Grow to love local foods: They are very delicious and make for a nice change from `western` foods.
- Bring your local favourite food item that you just cannot do without; but bear in mind many are available locally.
- If you have a netbook, bring it: Its small size made it relatively convenient as both an education and an entertainment tool
- Go on Safari or climb Kilimanjaro (if you have the energy for it) while in Tanzania
- Travel locally and internationally: It’s not often that you`ll be in that part of the world. Use the time before or after your project to travel and explore locally, nationally and internationally.
Beyond solidifying my interest in international development, my experience in Zanzibar has certainly had a lasting effect on me. Recently, I have completed my MSc degree in International Development and currently work in fundraising for an international development organization in Toronto. I have also maintained my relationship with YCI as an alumni, often representing YCI at various events, including volunteer recruitment drives and the Aeroplan `Go the Extra Mile` campaign. I shall continue to remember my time in Zanzibar as an exciting eye opening experience for many years to come.
Fawaz was a YCI Youth Ambassador working in Zanzibar. He remains an active member of the YCI alumni community.
Click here to learn more about YCI’s Ambassador programs and to get involved.