Edina thought that seeing lions in their natural habitat would be the highlight of her experience in Africa. But then she went to volunteer in a remote school in Tanzania and the time spent there became so much more valuable to her. Let’s see why.
Out of my 3 months Travel Period I chose to spend 2 months in Africa. The first month was a road trip through Botswana, Zambia and Zanzibar. In this trip I got to experience the culture, lifestyle, climate, wildlife, and many other aspects of life in these countries. But after a whole month of traveling and changing places constantly, I was really glad to arrive in Loliondo, Northern Tanzania, a place where I am to stay longer. This is a previously chosen Workaway project. Loliondo is situated in a really remote area of Tanzania. In the project I get accommodation and food in exchange of helping out in a school and an orphanage for a few hours on a daily basis.
The organization where I’m currently staying is an NGO called Macao (Malezi Aids Care Awareness Organization). Macao works mostly with (underprivileged) Maasai children and communities, trying to improve their situation. The NGO runs a school with about 300 pupils called Bright English Medium School (covering grades 1 to 7), and an orphanage with around 50 children.
Most of the children in the orphanage have no family, or their family is really poor and/or lives far away, so they live on the school premises. The volunteers, like myself, also live on the school premises. The students in the school pay a tuition fee, and those who cannot afford it are sponsored by individuals or organizations. Funding is extremely important for the organization. With the help of volunteers, the NGO has just launched a fundraising campaign mainly for expanding the school buildings.
My main task here is teaching English in the second grade of the school. As a primary school teacher from Europe, the conditions of this school really took me by surprise, even though in the area the school is considered a really good one. In my class there are around 45 kids. They are studying on a daily basis in a metallic container, because the school does not have enough classrooms yet. Usually, 4 kids sit at a desk which has the same size as the Hungarian schools desks for 2 students! Children do not have their own books (only the teacher has one), and sometimes they don’t even have their own pencils. There is one or two sharpeners for the whole class, so pupils queue up in front of the teacher when they need to sharpen their pencils. So when it comes to writing something, it takes quite some time! Also, there is no electricity in the classroom, and I could probably mention a lot more things that are different from the European settings which I took for granted before, when I was teaching in Hungary.
In spite of the difficulties I have never in my life seen such cheerful and vivid children. They are extremely excited each time they meet me and ask me to teach them more songs and games. When I walk down the street or in the area of the orphanage I often meet children from my class who are greeting me – “Good morning, Madam!”, and sing the songs I had taught them in class. All of them would like to hold my hand when we play a game. It really gives me a lot of energy, even if I have to wake up early to walk 30-40 minutes to the school.
The teacher of the class is called Mrs. Happiness. Faithful to her name, she is an incredibly bright and cheerful person to be around. She is usually alone with all these students, so now she is happy to have someone who can take over a few lessons and can assist her in different ways. I learn from her a lot every day, and I also try to show her some of the repertoire of educational songs and games that I bring from my country.
In the afternoon and weekends we, volunteers, are free to do different kinds of activities. After school we usually play football with the children back at the orphanage. It is amazing to see how motivated they are once we also take part in the game – even though I am not the best football player of all time.
Fridays, we usually go to the Maasai market where the Maasai people sell their products, mostly food and clothes. A bit further in the market you can also find cows and goats. This is where I got my shuka, the traditional clothing of the tribe. On Sundays we can go to church in the community. This is an experience in itself for someone used to quiet and sophisticated masses. The last service I’ve been to lasted for 3 hours. There was a lot of singing, choreographed dancing, and even a goat in the church; the goat was donated by the school. Other possibilities to spend our free time are visiting Maasai villages or the nearby Serengeti National Park.
Visiting Serengeti and seeing the African wildlife was a big dream of mine. Especially seeing lions in their natural environment. In the end my dream came true and I saw so much more than lions! But as it turns out, it isn’t the African wildlife that is leaving the biggest impact on me. It was an unplanned visit to a faraway Maasai boma (traditional Maasai village).
Often, tourists coming to Tanzania have prearranged tours to visit Maasai communities where the people dress up in traditional clothes, and let the visitors take some picture of them. My experience with a Maasai tribe was utterly different.
One of the other volunteers from the school decided to sponsor a Maasai girl by paying a few months of tuition fee for her. For this occasion, we visited the boma of the girl’s family. This place is 3 hours walking distance from us (we are also in a quite isolated location). The boma can only be reached by foot or motorcycle, as there are no sufficient roads for cars. The family did not expect us. Nevertheless, they were extremely grateful to receive us. One of the Maasai teachers who joined us, explained why we are visiting. They gave us a really nice cup of tea with milk, and a goat! The Maasai are a semi-nomadic pastoral people. They are growing goats and cows, and these animals have a big value for them. We asked to see how they make a fire using wooden sticks, so they happily taught us to do this. We returned with really good memories from this visit. Judging by their reaction, I am almost sure that these Maasai people never had visitors from Europe or other parts of the world.
I am so happy that I found this project! I got to see a remote part of an otherwise extremely touristic country. I do believe that even in this short time I will be spending here (about a month), I can show people a different perspective on education, I can teach new games and songs, and I can make connections that I will be glad to remember later. However, I think that being here, I am the one who has more to learn about culture, about people, and about myself, than others have to learn from me.
Edina – May 2016 Team