Alumni Spotlight: Laurie Mackechnie


Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because for a number of reasons.

1) I was looking for a program that would help empower women through education, and this program has an almost 10-year history of working towards that goal.

2) I know that the funds donated go entirely to running the program and paying local staff.

3) The impact on the local women is real and reveals itself in so many different ways. Students have gone on to further education, improved their existing businesses, started new businesses, and connected with other women in their community, who become friends and mentors.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

GHTA provided my pick up at the airport, and the local staff helped get me oriented with the accommodations, school, curriculum, schedule, local customs, and how to get basic living necessities. Any questions I had about travel, things to do, what to expect or bring with me were answered by local staff or the Monika, the Executive Director.

I arranged my own air transportation, but again, the staff was very helpful with advice and questions.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Be open-minded, flexible, and bring a sense of humour.

You are traveling to an underdeveloped country and things don't always go the way you think they will. Sometimes the power goes out, sometimes the internet is down, sometimes there is no hot water, sometimes it feels lonely. But if you approach those moments with a sense of humour, and the awareness that this is your life for a short time, while others live this way their whole lives, then it helps keep it in perspective.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Monday to Thursday
⦁ 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Teach English, vocational skills, math, or business classes.
⦁ 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.: Lunchtime (Sometimes students might ask for some extra help before they leave).
⦁ 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.: This time is often very flexible. Some of the things you might do during this time include;
- assisting with the Graduate Program (Thursdays only),
- visiting GHTA businesses,
- assisting with other GHTA tasks as needed,
- time for your daily errands (groceries), shopping, or relaxing
- reviewing daily progress and plan for next day's lessons
⦁ 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Dinner is served.

⦁ 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (time varies each week): Participate in a home visit with one of our students where you will travel with GHTA staff to the students' home to learn more about the student, her life, and local culture.

Saturday and Sunday
⦁ Free for exploring Moshi, visiting, relaxing, safari, travel or sightseeing.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

It was my first time traveling solo that far from home, and I had no idea if I would have anyone to talk to or hang out with. But I jumped in anyway!

I learned from that experience, and many other similar experiences since then, that I had no need to be worried. I formed friendships quickly with the other volunteers at the program, and with some of the local staff as well.

What would I do differently?

The first year I went I took all these supplies - pens, paper, balloons, candies, etc. But then I learned that, when I bring things into a country, I take away the opportunity to purchase those things locally and have an impact on the local economy. Now I am more mindful of what I bring. If I know it can't be purchased there, then I consider bringing it.

I am also more mindful of what I give (candies) and who I give it too. I bring specific Canadian treats and share them more mindfully.