Samara Elias - Care & Community in Tanzania
When I left London on a Saturday morning and boarded my 9-hour flight to Tanzania, nothing could have prepared me for the fantastic and fulfilling two weeks that lay ahead. I had chosen to travel to Arusha, Tanzania for 2 weeks volunteering on a Care and Community project so that I could experience something completely new and travel to a country I knew little about. I was placed at the Tuamini Orphanage as my ‘host family’ and divided my time between working at the orphanage and working at a local school nearby.
I was staying in a small village about 45 minutes out of Arusha, named Usa. Upon arriving, at 2am, I was instantly welcomed by the staff of the orphanage and made to feel at home. The first day or two was challenging but exciting. Although some aspects took getting used to - the lack of electricity and running water - I loved that everything I experienced was new and I was constantly learning about the Tanzanian culture. The food, the people, the surroundings were all different to what I was used to and this in itself was exciting.
Living and working at Tuamini Orphanage
The orphanage I stayed in had a warm and friendly atmosphere. It’s home to about 29 children between the ages of 3-18 years. The orphanage supports the children through school and then university, as well as providing a safe environment for them to live in. The children were instantly welcoming and straight away wanted to know my name, where I came from, my age and why I was there. I soon became their friend and every day, after I got back from the school, I would be asked to read stories, play jump rope, blow bubbles and provide my lap for endless children to climb on! They were the liveliest group of kids I have ever met, full of happiness, smiles and never ending energy - from 6am when they woke to 9pm when they’d excitedly climb into their beds.
On one day Liadi, the youngest child in the orphanage, insisted that he was big enough to carry my backpack but when he put it on it was so large it dragged along the ground! They were constantly making me laugh and smile. I’m very grateful for the experience of staying in the location that I also worked at, as it gave me a far richer experience, I became very close with many of the children and it was really fun being there for breakfast, when they went off to school and to read stories before bed time.
My favourite times at the orphanage were after dinner when we would all sit in a circle and sing songs. Some of them were Tanzanian songs and others were western, the children adored this and would all get up and dance. These are the moments I really treasure and will never forget.
My care placement at Laiktu School
Every morning at 9am I would be picked up by Projects Abroad and taken to a local secondary school, which had only opened 2 days prior to our arrival. The schools buildings had only just been built and therefore were unfinished. Our group painted the buildings so they could be finished quickly for the kids could start their lessons. It was a different environment at the school, unlike at the orphanage where they were used to foreigners, the school was not and therefore they were quite shy at the start. They soon became friendlier and every day we would play a game of volleyball or football with them. They were very amused at our useless football skills and the whole school would start laughing if one of the volunteers tripped during a game!
Getting used to the culture
I was very eager, right from the start, to ensure that I threw myself into the Tanzanian culture. Although it took getting used to, I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to the Tanzanian lifestyle. Some things were harder than others; the language barrier was tricky so I quickly learnt the essential words (hello, please, thank you etc). Manners go a long way in Tanzania and even being able to say a few words is helpful. However other parts of the lifestyle I found easy to slip into. The traditional Tanzanian breakfast of herbal tea, the ‘mandazi’ doughnut and a banana was delicious! For me, it was extremely rewarding learning about the culture and I was fascinated at how they lived their lives and how it differed to mine.
My last day in Tanzania
Although I was looking forward to certain aspects of western life (a hot shower and flushing toilet!) it was very sad leaving Usa. I had become very good friends with all the staff at the orphanage and all the kids. On the night I left, at the time when all the songs were sung, the kids all sang me special goodbye songs. Afterwards some of the children came and told me why they were going to miss me. This was one of the best points of my trip as it made me realise how much they appreciated the work we’d been doing and that I’d managed to help in some way.
When I returned to London I was full of stories of the orphanage and the amazing trip I’d had. I can’t wait to return and visit the kids, which I’m hoping to do next year for a longer period of time. The trip was one of the best of my life and I’ll never forget the different experiences I had there, but most of all the people that I met were lovely and that’s what I miss the most. I highly recommend volunteering abroad as it’s a life changing experience you will never forget!