Why I chose to volunteer
I’m Nick, I've always wanted to travel and see the world, to experience different cultures and do things I’d never otherwise do. However, while all those things are important to me I also really wanted my travelling to have a positive impact and for it not just to be focussed on me. This is where Projects Abroad came in. They had been recommended to me by a family friend who had been on a project with them in 2009.
I found out that in most cases you’d stay with a host family; this was great as I felt it would give me a better view of the culture in the country than if I stayed in a volunteer house. They offered projects in Tanzania where I greatly wanted to go as I’d been both to Uganda and Kenya before and wanted to return to that part of the world to do some volunteering. That combined with the opportunity to help in a hospital and then go on to teach sold it to me.
Medical project experience
I’m currently on a gap year before going to university to study medicine and one of the things I wanted to do was to gain some more medical experience. As I am a pre-medical student there was a limited amount to what I was able to do. Nevertheless, the experience I gained was challenging, fascinating and very worthwhile.
I would attend the ward round daily and did what I could to help out on the wards and also went on the outreach programmes. The medical notes in Tanzania are written up in English which enabled me keep up with the patient histories and most of the doctor’s there also spoke a good level of English which was helpful.
I was also lucky enough to have a couple of Australian doctors volunteering there at the same time, who were always willing to help and explain things. They really helped me enjoy my time there and encouraged me to be as involved as possible and enabled me to gain a more detailed understanding of the various medical procedures.
One of the things I found throughout my volunteering was that the other volunteers were always very helpful and willing to give advice as they most likely had gone through the same things a month or so earlier. This made it a lot easier to settle in to the projects, life in Arusha and Tanzania in general.
Chasing goats out of classrooms and other important teaching skills
I planned to do a Teaching project in the 2nd month of my time Tanzania. The reason I did this was as a pre-medical student I realised I might do more observing than helping in my medical placement but with teaching I hoped to be more involved. I taught at the Masaai teaching project. This was a school held in a one room; a breeze block Church with a class being taught in each corner. The school provided education for about 60-70 kids aged from about 3-8 years old.
There were a number of skills we quickly had to develop to teach the children well. Whether it was trying to explain points to them even though we didn’t speak the same language, to stopping them distracting one another, to chasing goats of out the classroom to prevent complete chaos, it was very rewarding and the kids were great. All the challenges, combined with the energetic children made for many stories and funny experiences.
One day after we completed our lessons, the mothers of the Masaai children we’d been teaching came in to thank us for what we had been doing. They dressed us up in traditional clothes and taught us traditional dancing before giving us a thank you gift. This was an incredible moment and made us feel so appreciated. It was a hugely humbling experience and one I know I will never forget.
Adventures, misadventures and amazing memories
I was in Tanzania for a total of 10 weeks. The city I was living in was called Arusha, a bustling lively city so different to my own back in England, it created many interesting stories. From incredible adventures such as swimming in waterfalls and going on Safari, to misadventures like accidentally handing over a 5000shilling note instead of a 500 shilling note and only realising after the man disappeared (with a smile on his face), to hilarious daladala (mini bus) rides crammed with people.
I was unlucky and got my wallet pickpocketed however thanks to Projects Abroad this caused no real disaster as they were extremely helpful in ensuring I obtained a police report and made an insurance claim. Project Abroad staff provided a very personal and caring service; people travelling with Projects Abroad were all generally happy with their host families, found the projects interesting and enjoyed the weekly socials and trips organized by them. Through the projects and the social events I met many truly great people and made many friends. This helped make my time in Tanzania all the more enjoyable and it was indeed a life changing experience.