Volunteer Name: Jenn Oswald
Project Location: Arusha, Tanzania
Volunteered at: Orphanage/School
1- How was the local Coordinator/staff and the support provided in-country? Any improvements or changes would you suggest?
The coordinators (and all of the people who came with them) were incredibly helpful. We were never left on our own and it was obvious that our safety was their first concern. They were very distanced from our work site, however. While once I was more settled in, I certainly did not need an outside person checking in, on the first day I was dropped off left under the impression that more guidance would be provided than was. I was left in the orphanage with zero instruction and a language barrier as the women in the orphanage have nothing to do with anything that happens in the classroom. There needs to be a more developed introduction for the teaching program. Once I figured out the schedule and who to talk to within my work site, things became much easier and everybody wanted to help me however they could.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
Michael Jordan is HUGE in Tanzania.
I have a background in arts and was asked if I wanted to help out in the music classes, set up by a volunteer group a while ago. The music teacher has been teaching the kids (6 classes, 3 days a week, a whole lot of kids and a whole lot of energy) guitar, but he didn’t know how to read music. I have enough experience in music theory/keyboard that I was able to teach both the kids and the instructor the basics so that that by my last day, we were having the kids play music by ear and translate the notes to the board. It was a really incredible and unique way to have an impact that I never would have expected.
3- What was most difficult to experience?
When ABV that this sort of project requires independence, they’re not kidding. You are getting thrown into a work site that functions every day without the help of volunteers, because as is the structure of ABV, volunteers are inconsistent depending on the site and time of year. While there may be ways or actions that could be taken in country to set up volunteers better, at the end of the day, it is about taking time to read the environment, figuring out who it is that will be most helpful, and asking for what you want or need, but having the flexibility to understand that you are a guest and ultimately it is about what they need, not what you need - no matter how you spend your days, your experience will change you; let it.
4- Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations)
I brought a bag of donations, but a lot of things (pencils, sharpeners, paper) that the school needed, I could have bought there (and did buy more there) as it is cheaper and more convenient.
If you plan to go on safari, bring at least one set of warm clothing - Ngorongoro Crater is a very cold night. In addition, the month of June in Tanzania is fairly chilly/rainy sometimes and you are going to want a jacket with a hood.
4.1-Other things volunteers should know:
a. Be flexible. I cannot stress that enough. More often than not, things will not go the way that you expect them to; that is okay. If you have a willingness to go with the flow and adapt, everything will be fine and you will have a great experience.
b. Do not ever compromise your safety. Somebody in the house or one of your contacts from Nelson (of which you will have many) will always call you a cab or give you more detailed directions. It is possible to explore and still be safe.
c. You will not blend in. That can be extraordinarily exausting. You will draw attention wherever you go, develop the habit of ignoring anybody who tries to yell to you on the street.
d. You’re not as cut off as you may expect. While you need to be in town to get internet, there is a whole ‘safe’ section of coffee shops, cafes, etc that all have free wifi and a supermarket with plenty of snack food (and anything else you could imagine) that helps you feel closer to home than you are.
5- Personal Paragraph about volunteering (ABV Program Testimonial):
Spending a month in Arusha was the hardest and most remarkable thing I’ve ever done. I’m sure that that is what every volunteer says, but it is absolutely the truth. I chose the teaching program because I have grown increasingly interested in different education initiatives in Africa. I was really fortunate to be at a school with opportunities I could uniquely help with and in an environment that let me use talents I had that others there did not. I was very ‘right place; right time’ and I am so grateful for that. It taught me that while the first few days are inevitably overwhelming, there is always a place for any volunteer and it takes time to develop a relationship with the people and the place that you are in. We (as the group of volunteers that where there at the time) took several trips on the weekend and explored Arusha whenever we had the chance. I had experiences and made friends that I am going to carry with me for a long time. I have discovered a new passion for traveling and discovering and I cannot wait to return to Arusha and everybody and everything that I left behind.
6- How would you describe your accommodation, meals, security (e: host family, on-site, shared).
We were in a house owned by the coordinator. His brother/friend live on the property and somebody familiar is always around. Saum is the wonderful, wonderful woman who comes in to cook breakfast and dinner every day. She ensures that it is impossible to go hungry. I am a fairly picky eater and I never had a problem. The meals are shared by all of the interns, lunch is on your own. There is always bread and sandwich makings around if you wanted to bring a packed lunch, but it is also easy to grab something in town.
The house is safe. everything is gated and there is a set of keys for the volunteers, which we had no problem coordinating as everybody was very willing to cooperate (we had a snag with one volunteer, who was fairly inflexible and chose to move out just a few days after her arrival, but that was an exception). All windows and doors have decorative bars/gating (as do most houses in the city) that prevents entry, even if somebody were to enter the gate.
7- What was your favorite memory of this trip?
The final day of music class, I got to watch students, who three weeks ago didn’t know what a treble clef was, write out the music for “Happy Birthday” on the board, playing it by ear and figuring out the notes as a group. When they heard that it was my last day in the country, they sang a song to me and I was presented with homemade treble clef earrings with “this is what you taught us.” It broke my heart and made me realize just how impactful every moment I had spent there had been, not just for them, but for myself. It was the perfect culmination.
8.- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling? Any improvements or changes that would better the experience for future volunteers?
ABV was incredibly helpful. I never had any issues getting in contact or having questions answered. I believe that I was given a point person at the beginning of the process, but there was no way to contact her directly - my email just went to a general volunteer link and I would get a response from a variety of people. I did always get a quick response, however.
9 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers