by Catherine Gauthier, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Tanzania
After an eventful week volunteering in Tanzania, I reflect upon the things I had expected and the things I have experienced during my introduction to Tanzanian life and the work I am doing. I had envisioned myself residing in a house full of volunteers from around the world and teaching elementary aged children in a small indoor classroom.
My reality is in no way less wonderful than my expectations, but it is very different. I am staying with a very nice family in the town of Usa River, just a bus ride away from the bustling city of Arusha. The father of the house is the founder of the orphanage where I am teaching. The organization also provides vocational classes for young women and micro-financing classes for widows. I am so grateful to be involved in such a virtuous community of people. Everyone whom I have met has been very nice, polite, and extremely welcoming! I am constantly greeted by “mambo!” to which I reply “poa!”
I walk a short 5 minutes to the orphanage in the mornings, I go home for the afternoons, and I return to see the children in the evenings. I am the only volunteer at the orphanage, so I am left alone with 11 of the young children for most of the mornings. I teach them English words, letters, numbers, greetings, and other simple things. They are always very enthusiastic, and they love when I show them something new or silly. When I allow them to play in the classroom, they ask me to draw for them; I am given an illustrated story book, and I must recreate the picture on their crumpled paper. They crowd around me saying, “Madame, madame! You draw this here!” The littlest things bring such happiness to these children!
When I return to them in the evenings, we simply play until their dinner is ready. This is my favorite part of the day for many reasons. Although their meal times and sleeping arrangements are far from we Westerners are used to, they are grateful for everything that they are given. Their food is rudimentary, yet none is wasted and every bite is eaten with gusto. They must sleep 2, 3, or even 4 to a bed yet they do not complain. These children, who are spending their lives with neither a father or mother, give me hope. I believe that if they can find joy in their lives, then so can everyone.