Alumni Spotlight: Lisa Vinish

International teacher extraordinaire.

Lisa Vinish is from Canada and currently works as a teacher in South Korea. She graduated from the University of Calgary with a BA in Political Science. Lisa enjoys teaching, traveling, politics, and of course Korea's favorite pastime, karaoke.

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Give a Heart to Africa?

Lisa with her students

Lisa: I decided to volunteer with GHTA because of its aim to educate and empower adults in Tanzania, with a key focus on women.

There are a lot of volunteer organizations out there that seem more concerned with running their “business” than making any significant impact.

This is the downside of paying to volunteer and potential volunteers need to be very cautious of this and make sure they do thorough research before committing themselves.

Give a Heart to Africa is very small, but makes an enormous impact in the community. The organization is transparent and volunteers are able to see where 100% of their funds go – providing support to not only Give a Heart to Africa's students, but to their families as well.

What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?

Small group working on grammar exercises

Lisa: Because GHTA is a school, it has various breaks throughout the year. If you arrive during a time the school is closed, Monika (GHTA's director) is well connected in Moshi and will make sure you can be put to use somewhere.

My friend and I arrived during Christmas break and ended up helping a GHTA student (Mary) in the make-shift school she ran in her home. Looking back at all my travels around the world, those afternoons at Mary's house are some of my most cherished memories.

Also, this was my second trip to Africa, but first time as a volunteer. The two experiences couldn't be more different.

As a volunteer I was able to have more interaction with the locals and formed meaningful bonds with many of them. It made me realize that we miss out on a lot when we visit a country as tourists.

What did you wish you knew before going to Tanzania?

Lisa: Because I had been to Kenya in the previous year, nothing about the culture or conditions came as a surprise to me. However, I wish I knew that English isn't as widely spoken in Moshi as it is in Nairobi, Kenya. Had I known that before arriving I would have spent more time studying Swahili.

If you could go back and do something different, what would it be?

Lisa: If I were to go back I think I would make a better effort to live in the present and focus 100% on what I was there to do. During the time leading up to my trip I was going through an unexpected and unpleasant life change.

Consequently, I was very stressed out for most of my time there. I deeply regret allowing that stress to overshadow what was going on in Tanzania.

Has your worldview changed as a result of this trip?

At Mary's house with all the neighborhood kids

Lisa: The experience definitely made me appreciate, not only the “stuff” I have, but the opportunities I've been granted, especially in terms of education. A couple years after volunteering with GHTA, I decided to volunteer in Kenya at a high school in the Kibera slum.

There, I saw the sacrifices that families will make in order to send their children to school. And the risks involved just to get to school. I used to view my own education as some obligatory chore; as something I had to do.

Obviously, I think differently now. GHTA can't take every student that applies, so the few that get into the program are very grateful. Adult education in Tanzania is a scarce resource.

But I realize that I have many options, should I choose to further my education. My overseas volunteering has definitely made me more aware of that fact and I don't take it for granted.