After months of saving, planning, and dreaming, no words can describe what it was like to step off the plane and wrap my mind around having finally arrived in Tanzania. My two month stay in Arusha was an adventure, an emotional, cultural, and physical challenge, and a milestone in my development as a social worker and as a person. What brought me to Tanzania was a desire to do something adventurous with my summer that was related to social work. I also developed a small research project related to working with children with HIV/AIDS and was given a small grant from my university. This program gave me the opportunity to do funded research, travel throughout Tanzania, contribute to care of orphaned and vulnerable children, give HIV/AIDS awareness and stigma presentations at schools, and participate in case management with people throughout the community living with HIV/AIDS.
Choosing A Broader View:
I chose ABV for the helpful staff and the price. I found that many of the people staying at the volunteer house were from different programs and all paid more than the ABV volunteers and did not receive anymore services than we did.
A typical day for me was getting up around 6:30 to 7:00, grabbing breakfast (typically hot tea, bread with peanut butter or jam, and sometimes fruit) and heading to the orphanage or into town to meet for home visits. The trip to the orphanage takes awhile! It is probably 1.5 to two miles to the dala dala stop. Not many of the dala dalas run all the way to Mishono Corner so you have to listen closely for the right one and when one comes by do not be shy about getting on. It is not unusual for the dala dala (a twelve passenger van) to be packed with twenty people, a few of whom may have huge baskets full of vegetables and even some chickens. You would be surprised how you can maneuver your way in and fit in the tiniest of spaces. I once was packed in and standing in the aisle and had nowhere to hold on to. We hit a bump doing a pretty high speed and I fell across the laps of six people. The entire dala dala laughed and they kind of propped me up for the rest of the ride. It's an experience. Once you have arrived at Mishono Corner, it is about a mile walk to the orphanage. Towards the end, you walk up a steep little road lined with flowers and you have finally made it! By the time I got there the older children were at school and the younger ones were having porridge. After you have cleared away and helped with washing the dishes, they usually sing songs, do dances, and then it's your time to teach them the alphabet. I liked to teach them some English words and have them teach me some Kiswahili words. After lessons it's pretty free for you to decide what you want to do: play outside, color, do a group activity, jump rope, etc. My advice: have a plan! Without one it is chaos. The staff at St. Lucia is wonderful, but they are too busy washing clothes, tending to the crops, cooking, and cleaning to be right there with you. This means it is you against seven or more kids and you don't speak their language and they don't speak yours. The kids are great, but they're like any group of kids; they hit each other, they get jealous, they rip toys from each others' hands, and they do talk back (even in Kiswahili, you'll be able to tell when a kid is giving you a what-for). Having a plan to give them structured engagement will help you avoid a lot of conflict and frustration. Like all kids, they love to show off what they're good at. Find out what each is interested in and use this to make them feel special. Also, acknowledge and accept that you will be involved in the labor that maintains the orphanage. I washed windows, walls, dishes, picked up the yard, helped cook, washed clothes (laundry done by hand for an orphanage is not something I think I can prepare you for), and changed I don't know how many diapers. My advice is to have a good attitude, a strong work ethic, and to be flexible. I would also advise that if you have any special objectives that you want to accomplish that you communicate them clearly and frequently. Contact Winifreda, the executive director, beforehand, communicate your objective and your needs to the staff, and if you sense a miscommunication or oversight, clear it up right then and there. Do not hesitate to assert yourself courteously, but clearly. The St. Lucia staff wants you to have a great experience and they don't want there to be miscommunications anymore than you do, so don't be shy. Speak up.
I would usually leave around 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. to make the long journey back to the volunteer house. Once back on the street where the volunteer house is you can hit the internet cafe on your way back, experiment with some of the food vendors, or buy any bottled water, snacks, or Airtel time for your cell phone at one of the local stalls. Back at the house the volunteers would usually journal, plan for the next day, and chat about how our days went. We ate around 6:00 or 7:00 (usually rice, stew, chapatis), read for awhile or went down to the local pub to watch soccer/football, and then called it a night. I slept in a room with two other girls and space is tight, so you will need to be organized with your packing and be able to store most of your things under your bed. A word to the wise, use a suitcase lock. With so many people under one roof it's better to be preventative than have to worry about being confrontational later.
I went to Zanzibar and on safari while I was there and loved it. I especially would not miss safari if you can afford it. I think it was about $800 for four days and it was worth every penny. I went with two other volunteers. The more people you can get to go with you, the cheaper it will be. The safari food was very good, and camping with the other volunteers was a lot of fun. Afterwards, you can tell people you have showered in the Serengeti and have seen elephants walk through your camp site. I am not terribly outdoorsy and even I thought it was one of the most incredible adventures of my life. Zanzibar was a nice trip. You can get a really nice hotel room and split three ways it's very cheap. We stayed in Stone Town and it was gorgeous. Tons of stuff to do depending on your interests. Prison Island was a let down (it's just a resort with giant tortoises and it takes awhile to get there in a rickety little boat), but the spice plantation was really neat, and the dolphin tour was gorgeous (also rickety, leaky boat).
Wet wipes are your friend. Bring lots.
Find a good balance between being open-minded and being clear about your needs and expectations.
Learn as much Kiswahili as you can. It isn't a must, but the locals really appreciate the effort and it will enhance your overall experience and reduce your cultural frustrations.
Read some articles about confronting your cultural biases and do some reflecting before you go and throughout your experience. Finally, ask yourself "why not?" rather than "why?"