Before I left home I had people saying things like “You should get a job and start making money instead of volunteering” and “You’re wasting your time”. Well, it’s been little over a month since I arrived to Iringa and I am so glad I did not listen to them. I’ve spent the past 4 weeks helping nurses in an HIV center during the morning and trying to teach English and Math to kids on the afternoons and to be honest I’m only starting to understand what being a “Volunteer” means.
Africa… Africa Africa Africa ! I have a bit over a month to go but I already know that this place will stay in my heart for the rest of my days. And I know that 3 months is not enough to take in all the magic this place has to offer. As I write this, I look back at the road so far and it’s simply overwhelming.
Since I got here I’ve heard quite a few stories of how Tanzania can be a dangerous place but in my personal experience everyone has been as friendly as a check-in in your favorite hotel. From the cab driver in Dar es Salaam that charged me an excessive $30 USD to take me to my hotel after arriving and ended up showing me pictures of his family to the Park Rangers in Ruaha National Park (largest in Tanzania) everyone has been nothing but amazing.
I can’t even begin to explain how breathtaking the landscape is, just imagine I got to see giraffes, monkey’s and antelopes on my 9 hour bus ride from Dar to Iringa! That’s crazy since I’ve only seen those animals at a Zoo (which I’ve always despised). Also, it’s rainy season at the time which means it rains quite a lot and quite often, but it also means that everything is green and growing and it’s just mind blowing to look at. And the food! Well the food is not that great but there’s this fried chips omelet called Chips Mayai that will keep you happy for only $2000 TZS (Bit over $1 USD).
Tanzania truly is a magical place but there are many challenges yet to be overcome by the country and I’d like to invite you to take a closer look at just a few of them through my eyes. Besides the poor housing conditions, the limited infrastructure or the fact that there is hardly any sort of recycling done around here, there is one issue I want to focus on today: education. Since I arrived I’ve seen children walking over 10km just to attend a school, kids that barely have a uniform to wear and once they get to school many of them sit on the floor simply because there isn’t anywhere else to sit. These are the same children that don’t have books to write on or pens to write with.
Additionally, what I consider to be an even bigger concern is the lack of competent and quality teachers. This is due to the fact that there isn’t enough money and the Government does not invest sufficient funds to provide good educators. Unfortunately, in many cases the father is not around and therefor students and youngsters rarely have a strong/positive role-model to look up to. It is crucial to understand that education is a right and it is a crime to prohibit anyone from accessing edification.
As a volunteer teacher I see that kids work on a “repetition system”, meaning that they basically replicate everything I write on a board and repeat everything I say when I ask a question, which is ok sometimes but it becomes an issue when you start to raise a generation that does not critically think by themselves. I strongly believe that as current and future role-models we must encourage younger generations to think and reason by themselves and endorse the value of learning from our own mistakes.
I can’t stress how important education is: day after day I see mothers and their offspring walk into the HIV center to get registered. It is sad to see that kids will live a life of depending on medical supplies to fight a terrible virus because their parents didn’t know better. And trust me when I say that what I just told you is a very small part of it. So when I say that I’m just starting to understand what being a volunteer is, is because anyone can become a “volunteer” but not everyone can actually make a change. My time in Africa has been so far an enriching and unforgettable experience but unfortunately I don’t think 3 months is enough time to make a real change. Nonetheless, it helps me establish the pillars and knowledge for when another opportunity like this comes up and hopefully I’ll be closer to making that change.
For now, I encourage everyone and anyone to go and volunteer somewhere around the world. Those of us who have been lucky enough to receive quality education, I dare you to go somewhere to help others and make a change, either in someone’s life or your own. I dare you to get out of your comfort zone and visit a place where you don’t know the culture, speak the language or practice the same religion, you’ll be surprised with how much you learn about yourself and grow as a person.