Traveling to Tanzania and Rwanda was amazing! I loved experiencing the different cultures and I was also able to participate in a few unique experiences with Operation Groundswell, such as a homestay. At the homestay I stayed with a Grandma and her two grandchildren in a small village on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was very interesting to see life from their perspective and help with chores around the house. I also made many Tanzanian and Rwandan friends and during my Independent Travel Time I hiked Mount Kilimanjaro. I'm thankful for the experiences that Operation Groundswell gave me; however, there were times when I was very frustrated with the program as well.
After I was registered for the program and before I left on the trip, it seemed as if the Operation Groundswell staff could care less about me. I emailed them multiple times inquiring about the program, as it was one month after they were supposed to be sending the program itinerary. They failed to reply to all of my emails and two weeks later they sent out an email stating that the program might be canceled due to lack of participants. Only then would they reply to my emails.
During the program, most of my dissatisfaction revolved around the program leaders. I am allergic to gluten and was told before the trip that they could accommodate a gluten-free diet for me. When I got to East Africa it was clear that they had not done anything to plan for this at all. In the beginning, for breakfast I only got a small portion of eggs. At the homestay, I got a couple bananas. I talked to my program leaders and told them that this was not substantial for me. They promised to buy me something else to eat for breakfast; however, it wasn't until the fourth week of a six week program, that they actually bought me some gluten-free oats to eat, and this was after I got upset with them. I felt that they continually ignored my problems and rarely checking in to see if we were doing okay. If you are Celiac or Gluten-Free DO NOT PARTICIPATE in an Operation Groundswell program!!
The leaders also lacked communication with the entire group of participants. They would leave us sitting in a bus on the side of the road, for hours sometimes, while they went off somewhere. They didn't even tell us where they were going or what they were doing until we asked them afterwards. We were left sitting in a hot bus, in a foreign country, all by ourselves with no idea when they were coming back.
Additionally, the leaders were late for most of our engagements. They would tell us to be ready for 4pm and we would all be sitting and waiting for them until around 5pm. This happened almost every day. It was absolutely ridiculous. I felt like I was wasting my time on this program.
A few other things that made me dissatisfied with the program were as follows:
-We were supposed to be focused on animal conservation; however, we rarely did anything with animals. We mostly planted trees, which is fine too, but I would have liked to have known this before the program so that I could have chosen a program more immersive with animals.
-Many of the volunteer opportunities were going to an office and listening to employees talk. I expected to be volunteering more hands-on and at the end of the trip I felt that I barely did anything to help animals in Eastern Africa.
-Only around 50% (I can't remember the exact percentage but it was close to 50%) of the amount that you pay on OG trips goes towards your actual travel. The other 50% goes towards salaries, alumni funds, etc. I paid about $4,000 CAD for this trip and only about $2,000 went towards my actual trip! I didn't know this until the end when our leaders showed us the cost breakdown. As an accountant, I was pretty upset with this info. I would have gotten much better value for my money if I had planned out a trip for myself.
-OG makes participants on the trip participate in "learning activities." Although the message they are trying to express is good, I felt like I was back in Kindergarten again when we had to do these. They treated us like children.
-Being 26 at the time that I participated on this trip, I was older than both of the leaders and almost all of the other participants. I felt a little bit out of place and I think that the programs are designed for younger people with little to no travel experience.
Overall, I absolutely loved East Africa and would love to return there someday. Needless to say, I will not be returning there with Operation Groundswell.