Alumni Spotlight: Courtney Cottrell


Why did you decide to volunteer with HELP in Tanzania?

I chose to volunteer with HELP mostly because it wasn't as expensive as most other projects I had seen, and because of their strict rules. I've lived abroad before and have seen that if people aren't willing to be overly-respectful of the native culture, bad things can come of it. I knew that I wanted to have a safe, productive experience so I wanted to go with an organization that had a good reputation, especially among the natives. It was HELP's first year in Tanzania, so I couldn't guarantee that reputation, but they've had great success in all the other countries they work in. They didn't disappoint.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

My daily activities included meeting with potential partners, doing research at internet cafes in town, discussing problems and brainstorming solutions with other group members and locals, collecting material prices for proposal budgets, planning lessons, teaching classes, working on construction projects. We did so many different things, but it varied each day and the types of activities changed depending on how far along we were into the summer.

At the beginning it was more geared towards talking with locals, identifying problems, creating a potential solution, writing a proposal, and getting the team to vote on it. After that, we got to work on the actual projects. We usually had a group meeting on Sunday nights to review the week before and plan the next week. We also planned small group meetings throughout the week for each individual project to make sure we were staying on track.

Weekends were up to us to plan. We spent the first few weeks in the closest city just trying to find our way around, going grocery shopping, and visiting museums and art markets. After about a month, we started taking trips and going on hikes in small groups. We went out to Moshi (near Mt. Kilimanjaro) to see the mountain and some nearby waterfalls. Another weekend, we visited some nearby Tanzanite mines. Most of us decided to take a vacation day and we went on a 3-day camping safari. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done! Some of us also took a weekend trip to the Indian Ocean.

How has this experience impacted your future?

This volunteer experience has definitely shaped who I am today and what I want to do with my future. I am now looking into going into nursing school after seeing how few people have access to real doctors. I also am trying to find ways to better support a group we worked with that helped albino children. They want to someday build a school and I think it would be awesome to go back someday and help them do that.

Next semester I'm hoping to intern with the International Rescue Committee that helps new African immigrants in the area. I want to continue teaching people about business and health, especially now that I better understand the East African culture. These are all new things that I hadn't seriously considered before going. Now I know that I probably can't change the whole world, but I also know that the education I've received can definitely be used to help others.