Karen Au - General Teaching Projects in Tanzania
Why I decided to volunteer in Arusha
I have dreamt of volunteering in Africa since I was in school. After achieving my Master’s degree in London, I decided to go for a “graduation trip” before heading back to my hometown Hong Kong. At that moment, the idea of volunteering abroad came up again. I searched online, compared different voluntary programmes and shortlisted Projects Abroad, which provided the highest flexibility of my plan in terms of the scopes of voluntary work, destinations and service period.
A few days later, I attended the seminar organised by Projects Abroad in central London where experienced volunteers shared their stories. I was particularly inspired by the one who had stayed in Tanzania for three months. Not only did he gain an extraordinary memorable experience in Tanzania, but he had also visited safaris near his workplace. Therefore, one month later I was in Arusha, Tanzania.
Once I chose Arusha as my voluntary location, I had asserted it was probably an absolute rural area that I might not be able to live in the way that I’m used to in London or Hong Kong.
Compared with the capital Dar es Salaam, Arusha is definitely less developed where you cannot find any skyscrapers. However, you can experience a different lifestyle here. If you do miss your home desperately, you can go to central Arusha to find something familiar, for instance, a western supermarket called “Shoprite” where you can buy your groceries, well-furnished cafés to chill out, dry-clean laundry, etc.
Life in Tanzania
In order to provide us a variety of food, my host family prepared both traditional Tanzanian dishes and western cuisine. For example, a very common local food is called UGALI, which is a staple made of maize or cassava flour, or a mixture of both. It is usually served with meat, beans or vegetables. Sometimes, my host family also prepared spaghetti to remind us the atmosphere of our hometown. Therefore, living in Arusha is like a cultural mixture between our home and the local way of life.
During my time every local Tanzanian was very friendly to us. On my first day in Arusha, I went to the Projects Abroad office for some administration registration. The office is 10 minutes walking distance from my host family. During this 10-minute walk I could hardly remember how many locals had said “Mambo” (means “Hello” in Swahili) to me with their smiles. At first I was shocked and didn’t know how to respond as I had no idea about Swahili before my arrival.
Very soon, I learnt to say “Poa” (meaning “Good” in Swahili) in return. Trust me, this heart-warming greeting culture is not an exceptional situation but happens all the time. Whenever I was walking in the street in Arusha, very often I said “Mambo” or “Poa” to more than 10 locals in my entire journey.
To facilitate communication with them, I also learned some simple Swahili such as “Asante” (Thank you), “Karibu” (You are welcome), “Jina lako ni nani” (What is your name?), “Jina langu ni…..” (My name is). The language learning process is absolutely interesting and interactive.
My Teaching Placement
Teaching in the Maasai School has become so far one of my most unforgettable lifetime experiences. In my three-week teaching placement, I worked in the Maasai school. It is a pre-elementary school which provides learning opportunities for three to seven year-old children living in the Maasai villages near Meserani before they study in kindergarten.
Due to limited resources in Meserani, the classes were temporarily situated at a local church. Despite the simple and basic study facilities, the children were very passionate about learning. Most of them came to school every day no matter if it was rainy or sunny.
The kids like interacting with volunteers. In the Maasai School, two teachers were coming from local Maasai communities while the other 5 to 7 volunteers were originally residing in different parts of the world. We were responsible for teaching the alphabet, numbers, word cards, colouring and simple mathematics in English.
In spite of the language barrier, the kids enjoy our company. In between classes, the children would hold our hands and keep saying “Teacher, teacher”. Looking into their eyes, we could feel their desire of our love.
During my time in Tanzania I never felt bored in Arusha. My teaching work finished by noon every day. In late afternoon, I enjoyed my leisure time either chilling out at home or hanging out around the city centre.
In the city there is a popular Maasai market where tourists can find different types of handcrafts and accessories. It is absolutely a paradise for hunting souvenirs. If you are looking for a different lifestyle, you can join local tours to visit national parks, hot springs, safaris or even the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
All in all, staying in Arusha gives you opportunities to explore the nature aside from being a volunteer.