Kate Thomas - Care & Community in Tanzania
As I was planning the summer prior to my senior year of high school, I was hoping to experience new places, new people and new cultures. After countless hours of research, and then convincing my parents that I was ready for a grand adventure overseas, I chose to travel to Tanzania with Projects Abroad on the Care & Community High School Special.
The flight from Washington DC to Arusha was daunting, as I had never travelled for that long by myself (21 hours). However, my time in Arusha for the next two weeks was well worth the long flight, the extensive packing and even the somewhat painful vaccinations!
Arriving in Tanzania and meeting my host family
Upon landing at the Kilimanjaro Airport, I was immediately greeted by a woman sporting a Projects Abroad t-shirt and felt welcome right from the start. Driving from the airport to the host family’s home, I immediately noticed both the beautiful landscape and the extreme poverty.
Once I arrived at the house, I was impressed by how clean and comfortable my room was. My host mother, Mama Leah, consistently cooked delicious dinners (usually meat stews, rice and beans). I met the rest of the volunteers and liked everyone from the beginning. I knew it was going to be a great group as we were all outspoken, friendly and interested in world events.
Volunteering at an orphanage in Arusha
The day after I arrived, I went to Bibi’s Charity Orphanage, the place where I would be spending most of my time for the next two weeks. I was one of four volunteers working at this orphanage. As soon as we arrived, about 30 children sprinted towards us and jumped into our arms. These kids were in such need of love, yet they had so much love to give to us. They absolutely adored spending time with us.
In particular, the kids loved to be picked up and to take pictures. There was never a moment in which a child was not holding my hand. Also, on the first day, the kids displayed their dancing and singing talents. The children would all form a circle, hold hands and chant songs. Often, a child would jump in the middle of the dance circle and laugh uncontrollably. Just after the first day, I had fallen in love with these kids.
As the trip progressed, I only got closer with the children. I connected especially with two girls named Matta and Caren, who both would run to me every time I went to the orphanage. One time, Matta was crying because she had lost her most prized possession: her hat. I immediately picked her up and she rested her head on my shoulder and she gradually stopped crying. It was the best feeling in the world to be able to comfort someone and temporarily relieve them from their worries.
Throughout the second week, I continued to build connections with the children. The children were honestly the most generous people I have ever met. For example, I was feeling tired so I decided to sit down on the dirt floor. Before I could sit, two of the boys took off their sweatshirts and made a seat for me so I would not get dirt on my pants. No one had asked them to do this, but they simply wanted to do this for me because they thought it was the right thing to do. As cliché as it sounds, it is astonishing how the people who have the least to give, give the most.
Another example of the children’s generosity occurred when I had gotten paint in my nails from painting the school building. A girl named Lydia, who was about seven or eight years old, picked up a wood chip and tried to clean my nails for me. These kids, including Lydia, were so thankful for the love that I had given and wanted to repay me in any way that they could. It was incredible.
Travelling in Tanzania
On the weekend, my group took a day safari and travelled to Tarangire National Park. It was truly incredible to see all the wild elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, ostriches, antelopes and more. As we were eating lunch, we were actually surrounded by some friendly monkeys who wanted to steal our food! I was able to learn a lot about the animals as one of the trip advisors was an expert in African wildlife. It was a breath taking landscape that I will never forget. The next day, we hiked around a crater lake, which was also beautiful. There were lots of people praying and chanting religious phrases on the mountain, which was fascinating.
During the second week, we took a day trip to the Maasai Village in the Serengeti. The Maasai tribe still practices the most ancient rituals and seems to have not been affected by modern times. There were several huts in a circle made out of cow dung, and these tiny huts acted as homes for the tribe-members. It was so interesting to see how these people live and compare it to my life back in DC.
Also at the Maasai village, the men decided to kill and cook a goat in order to welcome us. Some of us, including myself, were brave enough to eat raw goat kidney and drink the goat’s blood! It was an awesome and unforgettable experience. Driving out of the village, we came across a herd of giraffes running through the Serengeti. My fellow volunteers and I decided to get off of the bus, and run with the wild giraffes. That was definitely one of the coolest moments of my life so far.
Overall, my time in Tanzania was absolutely amazing. Projects Abroad did an excellent job in organizing activities for the volunteers and I never once felt unsafe. It was a great experience to serve the Tanzanian community with volunteers from all around the world, and the people I met here have become life-long friends. However, the highlight of the trip was working at the orphanage. These were honestly the best kids I have ever met and I am so blessed to have met them. I truly feel like I made a difference on this trip, and for that I am forever thankful to Projects Abroad!
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.