Emily Rubenstein - General Care Projects in Tanzania
I am from the United States and attend a university in Ohio where I study special education. I took part in the Care Project this summer and I volunteered at a school for special needs students in Arusha, Tanzania.
Why I chose Tanzania
When I was in high school, I volunteered in Rwanda with a different organisation at an orphanage for children with special needs. I not only fell in love with the special needs population but also volunteering in African. At the end of my trip, I knew I needed to go back to Africa as soon as possible. My sister spent the summer in Tanzania and said nothing but good things about it, so I had to see for myself. After going through various Projects Abroad projects, I found the school in Arusha, which is a school for students with disabilities. This was a huge interest of mine so I jumped at the chance. I could not have been more excited to start my five-week volunteer journey in Tanzania.
My host family in Arusha
While travelling to Tanzania, I started to feel a little bit nervous about being on my own. However, when I arrived at the airport in Arusha I felt so welcome and the nerves subsided. Upon arrival, a Projects Abroad staff member greeted me. He immediately offered me his phone to call my family to let them know I had arrived safely. After this, I realised that the staff would always have my back. I got to my host family at around 9pm and everyone was up, waiting for my arrival. My host momma was incredibly welcoming and made sure I knew that she was there to help me with anything I may need. She made me feel comfortable in her home as if I was a part of her small family. Even though I had joined the project by myself, I soon realised that I was not alone. There were so many other volunteers there as well as my host family. I was close to another local girl who was living with my host mother. We traded stories about my life growing up in New York and about her life growing up in a Maasai Village. Her English was not strong but I was able to teach her some words. She also taught me some basic words in Swahili, which really helped me while working on my project.
My Care Project
The school was an absolute eye-opening experience. After spending over 100 hours in a special needs classroom in the US, seeing the classrooms in Tanzania and watching the staff work with minimal resources was incredible. The students spoke minimal English, but we communicated a lot with body language. The students also helped me improve my Swahili and I was able to speak the language with them, which was cool. There were also students who were deaf so we used a bit of sign language to communicate. I know American Sign Language, so comparing Tanzanian Sign Language was interesting to me and I had no idea that the two forms could be so different. Even the signs for letters and the signs for numbers differed.
I worked on different skills with the children and learned so much. I helped them learn their numbers and letters and even assisted them with different handwriting strategies. This was incredibly rewarding. It would have been helpful if I knew more Swahili though, so a tip from me would be to learn the Swahili basics before you arrive.
In my last week, the school holidays had started so I spent the final part of my project working at a home for babies and children between the ages of three months and six years. I chose this placement, as I would like to work with young kids in the future. The home has about 20 of the sweetest and most loving kids. These kids had so much love to share and were so happy to play and learn. One little boy had even been adopted by a family in Texas so I helped him learn a bit of English.
Social and weekend activities
Going on this trip, I was worried about social interactions with the people in Tanzania and other volunteers as well as what I would do over the weekends. However, this aspect of my trip was incredible. For starters, the Projects Abroad staff assist you in any way that they can. I did at least three weekend excursions that the staff helped me organise, including my safari. The other volunteers were also so much fun. I went on a three-day safari with people I had met only a few days before, and the experience could not have been any better. The volunteers are just great people – they are there for the same reasons you are and are open to getting to know you. I climbed to a beautiful waterfall with a group of 10 volunteers and went to the hot springs. The Projects Abroad staff also set up socials every Thursday for the volunteers. We would go to various restaurants, have movie nights and cook traditional Tanzanian meals at the office. This was a great way to get to know the other volunteers. Overall, my experience was beyond incredible. I think about Tanzania every day and want to go back one day.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.