Volunteers of MAD

Three Times and Counting (Francine Parling)

It’s been a month since I’ve returned from Tanzania and I have this owed blog post hanging over my head. Reading through the expressive and reflective entries from the other Summer 2012 MAD volunteers, I’ve been challenged with putting into words what both my volunteering and the Make a Difference Now organization means to me.

Here’s my attempt in crafting some sen(tences)se of my experience.

This is the third time I’ve been to Tanzania and all three times, it has involved Make a Difference Now. In 2010, to acknowledge our passage into what used to be considered middle-age (the big 4-0), my husband and I took the proverbial trip of a lifetime to Tanzania to hike Kilimanjaro. You can read more about that trip here: http://www.teachingtraveling.com/2011/08/28/francine-teaching-esl-in-the-u-s-and-travel-in-tanzania/

In a nutshell, we didn’t make the summit. Hiking Kilimanjaro isn’t a walk in the park; it’s WALKING UP A MOUNTAIN. The mountain is BIG. The mountain is HIGH. The mountain’s air is THIN. And I was woefully and embarrassingly UNDERPREPARED. Lessons were unequivocally LEARNED.

There is a Kiswahili proverb (courtesy of a Google search; please, Kiswahili speakers and readers, call me out if the translation is wrong or if this proverb is completely made up) that states: Kupotea njia ndiko kujua njia (to lose the way is to learn the way). I haven’t given up on my summit dream, but it’s not the compelling reason I’ve returned to Tanzania every year since then. Instead, it was my happenchance meeting with Theresa Grant, a visit to the primary school the children attend, and an afternoon spent at the orphanage with the MAD kids that absolutely rocked my world.

What has brought me back to Tanzania and to MAD these past two years—and hopefully again in 2013? In one word: people. It’s the passionate purpose of Theresa. It’s the twenty-two kids of Kilimanjaro Kids Care. It’s the high-spirited high school and college students with tremendous motivation and big dreams and big futures. It’s the young woman who has the courage and gumption to travel the world, alone, for 8 months. It’s the congeniality and generosity of the godmother introducing Tanzania to her goddaughter. It’s another volunteer’s research and excellent teaching that I was able to build on. It’s the pluck of a guy who had never traveled abroad and decided to move to East Africa for half a year. It’s the MAD staff who warmly welcome and look after the steady-stream of volunteers that make their way to Moshi town. It’s the people who listened and believed in my volunteering and gave to my MAD Milk Money fundraiser.

It’s the strangers briefly met along the way, too, like the bicyclist who “quit I.T.” and is cycling around the world (three years down and more to go). It’s the two university professors on two different continents who took the time to exchange emails with a random stranger who wanted to learn more about education and teacher training in Sub-Sahara Africa. And, it’s the man who believes that there is a cheaper and more efficient way to remove landmines from Africa’s war-ravaged fields and forests—rats.

It’s the people—with their faith, creativity, and stubborn fortitude—who have made Tanzania, volunteering, and the MAD organization so inspiring and special to me.

I’ll close this with a poem that serendipitously arrived in my email in-box a few days ago. I think it speaks with great beauty to what I’ve wanted to say:

To Be of Use

The people I love the best

jump into work head first

without dallying in the shallows

and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals

bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

-Marge Piercy