My Tanzania Family

I recently travelled to Mwanza, Tanzania  with Youth Challenge International, to volunteer with a local NGO, Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization as a Monitoring and Evaluation Innovator. While I was there, I lived in a rural village with a host family who had 13 children.

host family house

“My host family’s home in Mwanza, Tanzania.”

Before I left for Tanzania, I was told that my host Mama (mother) had 6 children living at home. Imagine my surprise as I pulled up in the middle of the night to my host family’s home to discover my host Mama leaving for a party and a small sized classroom of children waiting for me. That first night the oldest sibling was the only one to speak to me: “Karibu (welcome), feel free,” she mentioned many times. During my first few days whenever I was approaching the children ran away laughing, and hid behind the doorways or potted plants. I quickly came to understand that the majority of the children living on the family compound had lost their parents due to illness. My Tanzanian Mama and Baba (father) had taken the children in to become a part of their family.

pre-school kids

“Visiting my host dada’s (sister’s) pre-school.”

Everything was different in Mwanza. I walked to work on dirt – and often flooded – roads, past farmers and free roaming cows and goats. I took cold showers and slept under a bug net. There were daily power outages and we only had access to an unsanitary water supply. The ants bit, and my host sisters and brothers ate their meals with their hands while sitting on the kitchen floor. It was easy in those first few days to feel isolated and a bit misunderstood.

lunch time

“Lunch time! Our meal consists of ugali (cornmeal cooked with water), maharagwe (beans), mboga (a vegetable) and mayai (eggs).”

After a few days, the children became less shy around me. As I did not speak Kiswahili and many of the children did not speak English, we had to find ways to begin to communicate with one another. One night during a power failure, I was wearing my headlamp and began to make shadow puppets on the kitchen wall. As the children and I played, I continued to ask them for the Kiswahili names of the projected animals. After this, the children took every opportunity to point to objects, tell me the word in Kiswahili and to ask for the English word. We began to learn from, and about, each other.

play time

“Playing a game with my new sisters.”

The village I was living in consisted only of other family homes and I initially believed that the nearest store was in town, a 40-minute dala dala (a minibus share taxi) ride away. However, as time went on, the community structure began to reveal itself to me. I soon learned that the little straw hut where two women cooked over an open fire was a restaurant serving the best chapati and ginger tea around; the house a small ways down the dirt path also doubled as the local general shop where you could purchase soda, maji baridi (cold water), phone credit and even toothbrushes; and the farmer I passed on my way to work was the man who sold my host Mama the vegetables that I ate every night for dinner. Everything I needed existed around me – I just hadn’t learned how to look properly. In Canada, stores, streets and even bus stops are clearly marked, but where I lived in Mwanza, you are only privy to this type of knowledge when you are a member of the community.

restaurant hut

“A restaurant hut in Mwanza.”

My host sisters and brothers work incredibly hard everyday to complete their household chores. They start their day at 6 a.m. with a prayer and have the house cleaned before breakfast. They are the ones responsible for the majority of the cooking, cleaning and often, taking care of each other.

I wanted to be included in all aspects of a Tanzanian family life. I helped to prepare meals, went to the market and played games with my host sisters. I helped my host sisters and brothers with their homework and went to church with my host family. I even learned how to braid my host sisters’ hair! I found myself becoming a member of the household.

fish prep

“Preparing dagaa (small fish) for lunch.”

By the end of my six-week stay, I had realized that regardless of differences in language, culture or religious beliefs, when you take the time to understand, live with and care for someone, they become a part of your family. I’ve heard it said that once you have travelled to far away lands you will never again feel at home; your heart is split between the family you were born into and the one you create for yourself. It was hard to leave my new family behind, but I know I will always be welcome back home.

 

host family

“My host family in Mwanza! ”

-Stephanie Hanson, Youth Innovator, Tanzania, 2013

To read more about YCI’s programs in Tanzania, click hereTo read more blogs from our volunteers in Tanzania, click here

YCI is currently recruiting for an 8-week project in Tanzania this May 6 to July 1st to work with our partners on leadership, health and education initiatives. 

Celebrating Volunteerism – Introducing YCI Alumna, Kelly O’Connor

In appreciation of International Volunteer Day, Youth Challenge International (YCI) and the Ontario Council for International Council (OCIC) have joined forces to collaborate and host a special Development Drinks event tonight! Here is a bio of one of YCI’s Global Leaders that will be speaking at the event. 

Kelly O’Connor – Ambassador, Ghana (2010) 

kelly

Kelly has a Bachelor’s degree in International Development from the University of Ottawa, and a post-graduate diploma in International Project Management from Humber College. After finishing at Humber, Kelly completed a 10-week volunteer project in Ghana with YCI in the fall of 2010. Currently, Kelly is on the communications team at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada, and has done contract work with the Green Party of Canada and United Way Toronto.

 

Celebrating Volunteerism – Introducing YCI Alumnus, Marcus Tan de Bibiana!

Youth Challenge International (YCI) and the Ontario Council for International Council (OCIC) have joined forces to collaborate and host a special Development Drinks event to celebrate International Volunteer Day on Thursday December 5th from 6pm-8pm.  

Don’t forget to Register! 

In preparation for the event, YCI is featuring five of our alumni who will be speaking about their career development and what they have been doing since their volunteer project with YCI. Over the next few days, we will be sharing bios of each of the five speakers.

Marcus Tan de Bibiana – Ambassador, Guyana (2009) and Monitoring & Evaluation Innovator, Ghana (2011) 

Marcus

Marcus Tan de Bibiana is a young humanitarian professional with a special commitment to the areas of peace building, human rights, governance and conflict-sensitive development.  In pursuit of the above he has worked in Canada, India, Guyana, Ghana, Sudan and Afghanistan in a variety of humanitarian sectors at different program phases.  His career grew from very humble beginnings through frequent volunteering, learning and working with smaller, mostly grassroots organizations, and the benefits have paid off. Currently, he is completing the second of two consulting assignments with AECOM on a USAID stabilization program in Southern Afghanistan and volunteers with a Sudanese humanitarian voluntary initiative called To Sudan with Love. No matter where he ends up next, volunteering for causes he believes in will continue to be an important part of his life. 

To read more bios of YCI’s alumni speakers, check out blog posts on Emily Royer and Billy Anderson. 

 

Celebrating Volunteerism – Introducing YCI Alumnus, Billy Anderson!

Youth Challenge International (YCI) and the Ontario Council for International Council (OCIC) have joined forces to collaborate and host a special Development Drinks event to celebrate International Volunteer Day on Thursday December 5th from 6pm-8pm.  

Don’t forget to Register! 

In preparation for the event, YCI will be featuring five of our alumni who will be speaking about their career development and what they have been doing since their volunteer project with YCI. Over the next few days, we will be sharing bios of each of the five speakers.

Billy Anderson – Group Leader, Costa Rica (2003) and Vanuatu (2008)

Billy anderson

Billy helps people step out of their comfort zone in order to make a difference with their life. Years ago he had the guts to stop doing what the world told him he should do. Instead, he figured out what he wanted to do and how he wanted to make a difference in the world.

Billy lives a full life every single day. He’s jumped out of an airplane exactly 101 times, traveled to over 30 countries, trekked in the Himalayas, Run with the Bulls in Spain, and swam with sharks in Thailand. He’s been a sugar-cane farmer, an Outward Bound instructor, an advertising manager and a non-profit executive.

Billy is the founder of made you think COACHING (http://madeyouthink.ca), an ICF Certificated Coach, Outward Bound Instructor, Coach and Consultant with ABAMI Experiential learning solutions, a Leadership Coach with Hazell & Associates/Career Partners International, and a writer for the The Globe and Mail.

Celebrating Volunteerism – Introducing YCI Alumna, Emily Royer! 

Youth Challenge International (YCI) and the Ontario Council for International Council (OCIC) have joined forces to collaborate and host a special Development Drinks event to celebrate International Volunteer Day on Thursday December 5th from 6pm-8pm.  

Don’t forget to Register! 

In preparation for the event, YCI will be featuring five of our alumni who will be speaking about their career development and what they have been doing since their volunteer project with YCI. Over the next week, we will be sharing bios of each of the five speakers.

Emily Royer – Marketing and Communications Innovator, Ghana (2013)

Emily Royer

Emily Royer works in the media and entertainment industry in Toronto and is passionate about inspiring and effecting social impact. Her passion for social impact and international development began in university when she traveled to rural Kenya with Western Heads East to work with a social enterprise focused on community health development and women’s empowerment. This experience inspired Emily to continue striving to create social impact and led her to YCI years later. With YCI, Emily traveled to Accra, Ghana and worked as a Marketing and Communications Innovator with the Ghana YMCA.

Emily graduated from the Richard Ivey School of Business with an Honors Business Administration and currently works at Corus Entertainment. Besides volunteering internationally, Emily is an active volunteer in her community and has recently been involved with the Acumen Fund and Future Possibilities for Kids.

  
 

Alisha Kalyniak – Alumni’s Sustained Passion in Working with Youth Takes Her to Mexico

During my 10-week placement in Ghana, which took place from September to November 2012, I had the opportunity to work with youth at the YMCA Vocational Training Institute. Along with my fellow volunteers, I facilitated workshops with the students, designed and implemented a “train the trainer” curriculum, as well as worked in partnership with the students and teachers to plan, coordinate and execute a World AIDS Day event. It was an amazing experience which sparked my desire to continue working with youth in the education sector.

Most recently, I have been working with World Vision Canada as an Education Intern in rural Mexico. I have been in Mexico for more then a month now, and I credit YCI for helping me develop the skills I needed to get to where I am now.

Alisha at the Pyramids of Teotihaucan

Alisha at the Pyramids of Teotihaucan

I am currently living in the municipality of Copainalá, in the region of Chiapas (Southern Mexico). Chiapas is extremely beautiful. Being here has completely altered my preconceptions of Mexico. I’m constantly surrounded by beautiful rolling hills. It is so lush and green here, that I feel as though I am living inside a painting, and it takes my breath away every day.

Also, I have the privilege of working in three different municipalities; Copainalá, Ocotepec and Bochil. The education system is fairly poor in Mexico, especially in rural areas. I am working with World Vision on two projects within the education system, a reading project and a tutoring project targeting children of 6-12 years old. These projects are meant to help keep the kids on track and at the level they should be at. I have had the opportunity to go to several different communities so far to see these projects firsthand. It has been amazing to interact with the children, and watch them excited to learn and participate.

Community Visit to Sarabia, Chiapas

Community Visit to Sarabia, Chiapas

After my internship, I hope to continue pursuing positions overseas working with youth. I will always remember my time in Ghana fondly. While in Ghana for my YCI placement, I learned a lot from the YCI staff, and also from the students & teachers at the YMCA Vocational Training Institute.

Alisha Kalyniak, Youth Leader, Ghana 2012

“An Exercise In Empathy and a Chance to Encourage Thoughtful Discussion”

Live Below the Lines Campaign Manager Erin Deviney interviews YCI Alum Shanna Sunley.

Screen shot 2013-06-18 at 3.02.08 PM

Many of you who signed up for the Live Below the Line challenge on behalf of Youth Challenge International (YCI) already have a personal connection with the organization, just as Shanna Sunley does. I had the opportunity to catch up with Shanna as a Live Below the Line participant and YCI volunteer to find out why she had volunteered with YCI, why she had taken on the LBL Challenge and most importantly her thoughts on both of these actions.

Shanna went to Tanzania as a YCI Youth Ambassador earlier this year to facilitate project management and to provide leadership training to local youth in Zanzibar. Along with other Youth Ambassadors, Shanna was taught how to carry out a community health needs assessment in the local area, and later presented the findings to key stakeholders to inform future project planning. In addition, the YCI volunteers used their training to organize and host a local International Women’s Day event.

It is thrilling to know that individuals such as Shanna are dedicating their time to improving the wellbeing of communities. However, I was a pleasantly surprised to learn of her decision to make another personal commitment towards the eradication of extreme poverty after having returned from Tanzania. On this topic Shanna said,

I think it (LBL) is an opportunity to be a global citizen. It stimulates reflection about the huge inequities that exist in our world, and takes a massive international issue down to the personal level. It is an exercise in empathy and a chance to encourage thoughtful discussion.”

Shanna’s efforts in the Live Below the Line campaign have had a significant impact on many levels – from raising awareness of global youth development to raising awareness of the issue of extreme poverty. Shanna has successfully raised over $300 to support the work of YCI, an organization that she knows to be effective and sustainable. In fact, in knowing that there are over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world, YCI is unique in that they believe in, and embrace, the power of young people to contribute to their own development.

Also, every conversation that Shanna has had with friends and colleagues about LBL has raised further awareness about the issue of extreme poverty. Yet this challenge is very personal to Shanna having had come back from Tanzania recently. The Live Below the Line experience gave her further insight into the everyday realities of her host family and community members in Tanzania.

As Live Below the Line‘s Campaign Manager, I am continually inspired by Shanna and the hundreds of other Canadians who dared to partake in the Live Below the Line challenge. If you haven’t had the opportunity to embark on this unique challenge or to fundraise, you can still participate until June 30th.

That’s less than 2 weeks away. So, join Live Below the Line before it’s too late. Your efforts will raise awareness of extreme poverty and help support the critical work that Youth Challenge International is doing to end it.