Kiera Lee - General Care Projects in Tanzania
I spent four months volunteering in Tanzania, first at Green Pastures (TCRN) orphanage in Dar es Salaam then at a Maasai school in Arusha. Every day was fun and challenging, and getting to know these kids from a different culture was an incredible experience.
Care in Dar es Salaam
In the first week of my placement at Green Pastures orphanage I felt that they already had a solid routine where the ‘mama’ would teach the younger children, while the older ones were at school. Then after lunch the older kids did their homework while the younger ones napped. Everyone tended to treat me like royalty and I had to insist that I wanted to help with the chores and play games with the kids. The kids would run to meet me every morning, laughing and smiling.
Most days I arrived at 9am, and would either teach the younger kids sounds, numbers and letters or play with the older ones. All the kids loved to colour and paint. They also liked to play memory, card games and dodge ball (with an old sock). They would have lunch around 2pm and always liked when I ate with them. The food took a while to get used to; it was always beans and ugali! The youngest children often just wanted to be held, it was such a special moment when they fell asleep in my arms.
I had a range of pre-planned games and activities, but most of them turned out to be too difficult to explain. My advice is to keep any games extremely simple, although by the end of my placement I was amazed at how much their English had improved. They loved colouring books and bubbles. Planning becomes much easier once you have met the kids.
During my placement I planned some special days for the kids, we went to the beach, I cooked them a spaghetti lunch and we had sleepovers. The oldest kids (14 and 16 years old) spent all their time at school or doing chores and it was difficult to spend much time with them, so I took them for a day out to a water park. We had so much fun and they said, ‘it was the best day ever!’ and ‘I’m going to have good dreams.’ It was wonderful to see the kids so happy.
One of the best but most heart-breaking experiences was sleeping at the orphanage. The younger children, around 15 kids, shared a room. I wanted to be there to read them a bed time story, sing and pat them to sleep as my mum did with me. This was a completely foreign concept to the children and they savoured every bit of attention they got, as it seemed to be something they had never received. My advice is to make sure you are at the orphanage at different times of the day. My experience differed greatly depending on whether I was there in the morning, afternoon or evening.
Teaching in Arusha
After two months in Dar es Salaam, I moved to Arusha and worked at a Maasai school. When I first drove across the plains to get to the old church that was used as the school, I saw poverty everywhere. There were women walking with buckets on their heads, men herding cattle and children racing to school dressed in dirty, torn clothing. However, as I settled in to the school routine, I got to see the happy smiles on the kids’ faces, their cheeky defiance when they didn’t want to do their writing and the family love as they greeted their parents.
The school was split into classes by ability level with five classes altogether and only two local teachers. This meant the volunteers, there were always four or five, played a big role in the running of the school. The language barrier was difficult at first, but the teachers and volunteers helped me a lot and taught me to give simple directions, mostly: ‘write’, ‘work’, ‘good’ and ‘stop’ (for the naughty ones!).
I started in the ‘baby’ class teaching numbers and letters and then I was given the task of taking the ‘intermediate’ class by myself. At first I was overwhelmed with the responsibility but found myself loving the challenge. I was surprised by the level of maths that the kids could do, easily adding and subtracting big numbers. English was more difficult and took a lot of preparation time, so we wrote words out for the kids to trace and copy each night. Most of the kids worked hard and enjoyed school but there were a few naughty ones. The school day also included singing and reading books which they all loved. I took my IPad with me once and showed the kids Wiggles videos which they all stared at with fascination and sang and danced to.
While in Tanzania, I worked, lived and travelled with other volunteers and easily made some really good friends. We had social nights with all the volunteers, eating amazing food, playing volleyball and learning new local activities. Weekends were always busy and fun. I can remember hiking, going to the hot springs, the Maasai craft markets and the cultural centre. I held a new-born baby when we visited a Maasai village, got within a metre of a male lion that was resting after a fight when on Safari at Ngaruroro Crater and swam with wild dolphins in Zanzibar.
My last day working at the orphanage is one I’ll never forget. It wasn’t until then, with all the children in tears that I realised what a huge impact my presence had on their life. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is leaving all the kids; I look back now and miss everyone so much. I made some really good friends, had some experiences I will never forget and returned home with an amazing sense of accomplishment- and a great tan!
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.