Sometimes, I can’t quite articulate myself properly. I think my want to make people understand exactly what I am thinking often stumbles the thoughts that are trying to travel outside of my brain and through my mouth. So, you can imagine how difficult it might be for someone like me to voice exactly what 8 weeks of travel to Tanzania has been for me. It’s kind of like taking a history course for a semester and at the end having your teacher ask, “So, what did you learn?” It would be impossible to think of everything you learned in that instant to prove to your teacher that your time was well spent in that course. Forgive me for segmenting this entry, but in order to keep from boring whomever is reading this and to better recount to you what I have gained from being in Tanzania, I will divide my entry into the most useful categories I can think of.
Before & After
When I told people that I would be coming to Tanzania, people usually responded in one of two ways. They were either really excited for me or utterly confused. The latter emotion usually went along with the fact that people had no earthly clue where Tanzania was located, but on one rare occasion someone knew exactly where Tanzania was and was completely baffled as to why I would choose to go there.
“Why would you want to go to Africa? Haven’t you already been there?” this person asked.
I responded with, “Yes, but I’ve never been to Tanzania.”
As insulted as I was with the presumption that all of Africa is exactly the same no matter which country one goes to, the thought had crossed my mind before. I am here through a program sponsored by Duke University called DukeEngage—one which seeks to provide civic engagement experiences to undergraduate students. I could have picked anywhere in the world to do service for 8 weeks, and even though I am ethnically Nigerian and have traveled to Africa before, I chose another African country to visit. I have no remorse about that decision whatsoever. In fact, I would later realize that Tanzania is the perfect place for “a girl like me.” However, I did come into this country instantly making a lot of assumptions and because of my prior background, comparisons. I initially thought that Tanzania would be pretty much the same as Nigeria, and it some ways it has been. There are certain things that remain constant across sub-Saharan Africa—Milo, unpaved roads, women gracefully carrying loads on their heads. While Tanzania shares some traits with Nigeria, it is most definitely a country with its own unique character. Firstly, the fact that it is the only country I know of with Swahili as its national language sets Tanzania apart from the rest of Africa. I absolutely love the sound of Swahili being spoken, and how it so rapidly rolls off people’s tongues. I wish that Nigeria had a language that binds everyone together like Tanzania does. Though English is Nigeria’s national language, there is something special about an authentic African language being spoken ubiquitously by Africans. This very thought has made me anxious about learning and speaking Swahili. Well, that combined with the fact that everyone either expects me to already know Swahili or gets angry when I can’t understand what they are saying. Anyway, thanks to my dedicated teacher, Emmanuel, and my own persistence, I feel like I have become pretty decent at conversational Swahili. Hopefully, I can continue to learn on my own when I get back home.
Also, Tanzanians are some of the most warm, welcoming people on the planet. This is not to say that Nigerians aren’t warm and welcoming, but other than the dala dala conductors, Tanzanians don’t seem to have the aggressive nature that a lot of Nigerians do. Overall, this country is really peaceful and beautiful.
If you want to discover the truth about something, just ask a child.
Although the purpose of my being here was to perform health-related tasks, the majority of the things I have learned since being here revolve around my experiences at the orphanage with the children. I would never guess that these children are orphans. All of them are exceptionally gifted in some way and have such fun personalities. Reading and hearing about where the children have come from and comparing that to where they are now is mind-blowing. Being around the children has made me realize the impact that love, time, and financial resources can have on a child’s livelihood. Secondly, learning about the Tanzanian education system and seeing all the amazing efforts that people are putting into reforming it has been really insightful. It makes me really inspired to see how much people are investing in things like teacher training because it shows that people are hopeful enough to believe that their efforts will manifest into something that will benefit the country. It also shows that people have faith that Tanzanians can eventually take charge and restore their own education infrastructure with the proper guidance.
One of the things that I really respect about MAD is that the organization brings in very talented volunteers whom are usually very experienced in their respective fields. These volunteers then use their expertise in an area to benefit the children or the community in some way. Because of the volunteers, the children get the chance to do things that an average Tanzanian child may not get to do such as go horseback riding, do arts and crafts, learn to swim, and play basketball. In this respect, the children are very lucky because not only do they get to have fun doing all of these things, but they get to harness their creative potential in ways that regular schooling does not allow.
One way that MAD was able to make one of their fun experiences educational was through the university tour. On this inaugural college trip, the three oldest boys, Deo, Revo, and Edward got to come along for a journey through Tanzania’s greatest cities and best universities. All three of the boys are doing great in school and I am glad that they got the opportunity to come on this tour because they really deserved it. I’m sure that Edward really appreciated getting to come, but I think the trip had the biggest impact on Revo and Deo because they are much closer to going to university both being in Form 3. However, I think by the end of the tour they could all visualize themselves being enrolled in a top school. In general, I though the tour was a really good way to see more of Tanzania, learn more about its history, and spend time with the older boys. Hopefully, the trip will serve as an incentive for the younger children to emulate the work ethic and success that the older boys are having in school.
Why I Came
My primary reason for coming as a MAD volunteer was to conduct health surveys on HIV/AIDS in the villages of the children under MAD’s care. My project did not end up being exactly what I expected it would be, but overall it offered great insight into what it is like to work in the health sector in a developing country and it was an experience I am truly grateful for. Because the process of getting approval to go into the villages turned out to be painstakingly slow, we did not get to conduct as many village visits as we wanted to, but the ones we did conduct were both successful and valuable. The last two village visits went especially well and completely made me realize that I could do this kind of work for the rest of my life. Just seeing how all the participants were so receptive to changing the fate of their communities and how appreciative they were of our assistance in doing that gave me an incredible feeling. I am so glad that my experiences with health in Tanzania made me reconfirm my desire to go into global health work. Additionally, I learned that our initial plans to make the health surveys solely about HIV/AIDS did not necessarily fit the needs of the communities we visited. The whole purpose of conducting the health surveys in the villages in the first place was to see what areas of health knowledge needed improvement so that MAD could then utilize the help of our HIV/AIDS partner, Kiwakkuki, to educate people in the villages in those areas. However, through conducting the surveys I learned that there is not much more that needs to be done with HIV/AIDS education in these villages. Most people that we spoke to knew more about HIV/AIDS than the average person in the United States would. Luckily, Theresa was able to offer some guidance with the questions and make the surveys include more comprehensive health questions. From my perspective, I gathered that the biggest area that people need health education in is probably basic sanitation practices such as handwashing. Even though sanitation is an aspect of health that MAD could help educate people on, the biggest obstacle I see for NGOs is getting people to implement the proper practices in their daily lives. Just how we get people to change their mentality towards implementation remains the million-dollar mystery. Taking a cue from other countries such as Botswana and China, hopefully NGOs like Make a Difference can find ways to work with governments to collaboratively change people’s mindsets.
This trip was such an inspirational trip in so many ways. Seeing all the amazing things people are doing to make a change makes me feel like my efforts to do the same thing will be worth it. I have met too many dedicated people not to have faith in humanity. I met a girl just out of university who is building an orphanage that will house sixty orphaned children. I have met countless Duke Med students who are doing all kinds of health research at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, one of three major teaching hospitals in Tanzania. I have met Tanzanians who break the stereotype of the complacent African—ones who believe that they can impact change through their work, whether it is caring for orphaned children or fighting HIV/AIDS. I have met volunteers from all over the world—from Canada, to Mexico, to Australia who have put their lives on hold because they too believe in humanity. And I have met people who have given up their previous ways of life to come and make a difference in a land so far removed from their own. I feel so blessed that God gave me the opportunity to see all these things that will stay with me forever. I could not have asked for more.