Volunteering as a Family in Tanzania, Africa with Make A Difference!

Hi family and friends!

What an amazing day we have had here at MAD’s (Make A Difference) guesthouse in Moshi, Rau! We first set foot on Tanzanian soil yesterday at 2:30 AM. After a 45 minute car ride we were met at the guesthouse by Naomi, a MAD volunteer alumni from Sydney, Australia. We managed to catch a few hours of sleep before enjoying breakfast, orientation and Swahili lesson by Janeth (MAD’s local manager), a trip to the local market, and of course meeting and hanging out with 5 of the students that will be staying here during school break: Eliona, Peter, Jonas, Innocent and Joseph!

Pina, MAD’s lovely housekeeper and cook, has served up delicious local food from the moment we arrived! So far we have tried Ndizi (Plantain Stew), Pilau (Spiced rice and meat – this feast she served up for 22 people today!!) and Chipsi na Mayai (Tanazanian Omelette). Needless to say, our kids’ taste buds are being challenged and expanded, but so far they have liked everything! I think Patrick was happy to hear that many of the other boys shared his favorite foods of Pizza, hamburgers and kebabs – in that order. Food gone global!? Personally I think I will bring Chipsi na Mayai back to America! At least, I will be bringing MAD’s cookbook “Kilimanjaro Kitchen” back home with me ☺

Speaking of Kilimanjaro; it has remained covered in clouds so far and we have not been able to see this majestic mountain. But, we are not giving up! We are going on a visit to a local village tomorrow and we remain hopeful that the mountain will reveal itself !! It’s at the end of the rainy season here. A few showers and clouds are still remaining making it humid, but relatively comfortable temperature-wise. It is unbelievably green, lush and beautiful with periods of clear blue sky and a sun baking the ground into a reddish brown. The colors are very intense.

Anyhow, back to today! Our first day of meeting the 22 students that MAD is helping with an education! This organization is simply amazing – check it out at http://www.gomadnow.org! It is school break here as well (for the month of June) and most of them are off (it depends a little on what school you are in). Some of the kids spent hours on a bus to get in for tutoring, activities, fun and food – and hours to get back home at the end of the day! It is a different world for sure! George, MAD’s tutor also spent the day here and we had various group activities with the students – expertly run by Janeth! Together we discussed and presented group work on: “If Tanzania had no trees… (we had to work on finishing this sentence and making a paragraph out of it)” and “If people in Tanzania burn plastic then…..” (both issues that are threatening Tanzania!). John and I were both impressed with the kids’ knowledge of the subject matter and their ability to discuss and express themselves in English!


After such heavy topics it was great to run off to the field and play football (soccer) and baseball and just have some fun! John is brainwashing the kids into liking Liverpool and Patrick is setting up baseball training camp. It is lovely to see that the kids are finding each other through activities, games and sport! We are so happy to be here, to be able to experience life in Tanzania with Make A Difference and we are so amazed at the wonderful welcome we have received! Can’t wait for tomorrow!!

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Math is actually fun!

Day 3 we all woke up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep. A few of us enjoyed a cup of the delicious coffee on the front porch while watching a light rain come down. We then had toast, porridge and fruit for breakfast. Kelly started a trend by bringing the peanut butter out, which immediately became a crowd favorite. We also loved the fresh watermelon juice!

We then had a visit from Mr. Ndambuki, who teaches English at Royal School. He gave us a holistic overview of the school system in Tanzania, his teaching philosophy and methods, current challenges students face with learning, and why he loves to teach. We learned a great deal in such a short amount of time! It was perfect preparation for our visit to Royal School later that afternoon.


Mr. Ndambuki discussing education with us

We couldn’t wait to tackle our next task –  sorting the 209 t-shirts that were donated to MAD! Jessica organized a t-shirt drive out of San Francisco that was hugely successful. We’re looking forward to giving so many shirts to the students!


Piles on piles on piles of donated shirts

Before we left for the school, we had a traditional Tanzanian meal of ugali and spinach. Some of the students gave us a lesson on how to properly eat it – first take a small bit of ugali, roll it in a ball, pinch it, then scoop up the spinach, all with your hands! We all thought it was tasty and enjoyed learning more about the culture at the same time.


Esther showing us how ugali is done

It was then time to hit the road for Royal School. The scenery on the ride out was gorgeous, everything was so green and lush. We were especially lucky because we were also able to see Mt. Kilimanjaro. Theresa didn’t want us to miss a photo opportunity, so we pulled over on the side of the road and all got out to take pictures.

Once we arrived, we were given a tour of the school grounds by Paul, our driver. He was very proud to show us around and we were all impressed by how beautiful the grounds were. Theresa also pointed out the basketball court, first aid room, and the exam corrector quarters, all of which groups from Salesforce helped build. Next up was an interactive workshop with the students where we combined teaching Math and English. We split up in groups by a profession that the students want to pursue – doctor, pilot, engineer, and businessman/woman. The group leaders put together ‘math problems’ by presenting every day situations that apply to the job, which the students had to solve. They then presented their ‘math problems’ in front of each other. The lesson was tied together nicely by the story we created – a businessman was traveling from Tanzania to San Francisco for the Olympics to sell cardio machines to doctors. The students all had a great time working together in groups and loved learning in a fun and collaborative way. IMG_0737We ended the lesson and presentations with much deserved celebratory sodas!IMG_0737


Cheers to a job well done!

On the way home, we couldn’t stop talking about how great the afternoon workshop went. We’re so excited to spend more time with the students and can’t wait to see what day 4 has in store!

— Meghan Brekke

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We made it to Moshi, Tanzania!!!

After many hours of travel, we were greeted with big smiles, bottles of water and beautiful single roses. It was such a warm welcome from Paul (our driver) and some of the MAD students.



Warm welcome from the MAD team!





Upon arrival to the MAD house, we were happily greeted by Theresa and Janeth. We settled into our accommodations and enjoyed a traditional Tanzanian lunch of plantain stew from Pina, our amazing cook! Although a few of us were a bit weary of the idea of plantain stew, it was absolutely delicious!



Plantain stew for lunch by the amazing Pina!



After lunch, we had our first tour of Moshi Town. It was fun to take a quick stroll around town to get our legs going and get acclimated with the weather and the town. We then unpacked some of our donations of shirts, backpacks and books. We were excited to give out some of the shirts to the students that were with us our first day. The students were very thankful for the gift of shirts!

We then enjoyed a great Tanzanian spin on tacos with chapati, fresh guacamole and salsa. Soon after, we settled in for the night.

The next morning, we were awakened by roosters and the laughter of children heading to school. It was exciting to enjoy a meal with students enjoying their first taste of French toast. The French toast was accompanied by fresh fruit and the best coffee I’ve ever had.

Up next was Swahili lessons by mama Frida! What a treat! We learned popular greetings like “Hujambo” (How are you?), “Asante” (Thank you!) and “Habari za asubuhi!” (Good Morning!)




Swahili class with Mama Frida!




After class, we took another stroll in the town which gave us the opportunity to practice our Swahili. We found ourselves teaming together to ensure we had the right response by the locals. Some giggled by our responses but most were appreciative of our attempts at speaking the local language.



Walking with the students, practicing our Swahili!



In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to finally meet the rest of the MAD students we will be working with throughout the week. I was so excited to meet my students: Esther, Mwenda (Stanley), Gift and Ben. We completed ice breakers with the students and practiced interviewing one another to get to know one another. Some questions that were asked were “What is the greatest advice you’ve ever been given?”, “How would you spend $1 million dollars?” and “Who is your hero and why?” My students have such great aspirations to be engineers, business men and politicians. It was inspiring to hear how much they value their education and recognize the impact of MAD has made on their lives.




My team – Mwenda (Stanley), Gift and Esther (Missing Ben)




After our afternoon session with the students, we walked them to their bus stop and headed back to the house to prepare for the next day.

Our first two days in Moshi and MAD have been nothing short of AMAZING. I am definitely looking forward to meeting the students at the school tomorrow!

— Jessica de Leon, IG: @jessicaideleon

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Reflections from Eight Salesforce Volunteers with MAD in Tanzania



Salesforce volunteers visiting one of Make A Difference’s student’s home villages in Tanzania to learn more about the culture. 

The post below was written by eight Salesforce.com employees who volunteered with Make A Difference (MAD) in July 2016.
Our Salesforce group spent a wonderful week in Moshi, volunteering with MAD. We found the MAD students to be extremely bright and very enthusiastic about learning. They have a great grasp on their possible future occupations and know what they need to do to achieve those goals, more specifically, which subjects they need to focus on while in school. The fact that at such a young age, they know that they want to be doctors who can heal the world, pilots whom see the world and computer engineers in order to improve the infrastructure of the world, is incredible. The students loved to show us their good penmanship and papers with good marks (grades). They were proud of their achievements and it made us that much more honored to help assist in their strife to reach for the stars.

Reflecting on our week in Moshi, we observed some interesting cultural differences between Tanzania and the world in which we come from. In Tanzania, life is simple and people are very easy going. “Hakuna matata” is both a phrase and a wonderful way of life.

Attitude – Overall, Tanzanians are very friendly and polite to foreigners. The children that we met were obedient, respectful and sweet. They showed a lot of respect for their elders. They seemed to have a deep sense of responsibility and independence. For instance, they all told us they wash their own clothes (this rarely happens in the US!). Though Tanzanian children have very little, they are careful about what they have, always smiling and wanting to make the best out of their situation. The students were very matter of fact and mature even when sharing the details about the fire in their dorms (a scary and upsetting experience). In the states, kids are used to being spoiled and are raised to be much more dependent.

Technology – Though there is less regulation in Tanzania, there is broad use of solar technology which is really impressive. Tanzania is less immersed in the digital world and is not as dependent on technology. They’re a little bit off the grid here and free from Americans’ internet dependency. There are times where the internet or power goes out in Tanzania and it’s considered part of daily life. In the US, if this were to happen, we panic and our productivity level decreases. We rely heavily on computers and the internet to do our work as professionals and learn in school even at young ages.

Transportation – Directions are challenging in Tanzania because there aren’t street addresses and people use landmarks to provide directions. Transportation is also chaotic here; it’s less organized than US cities, where we have subways, highways, passing lanes, etc. And, in Tanzania, most people don’t have a vehicle; many people walk or take the dalla dalla or boda. In the US, driving cars is very common in all areas, expect for some very large cities.

Food – Food options here are much more simple and based on local harvest availability. When we asked people what their favorite food is, they often mentioned something homemade. Here, going out to eat is considered a treat. In the U.S., we ship and transport a lot of food. We rely less on local foods and waste a lot of food. Also, going out to eat is considered more commonplace and may even include on-the-go options, like fast food.

Tools & Materials
– There are machetes everywhere in Tanzania! The machete is an example of a multipurpose tool here which is used to cut bricks, measure things, hack down plants, etc. Also, we’ve seen people here hike and build buildings in flip flops. In the US, we’re very particular abut having specialized gear and tools for each activity.


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The Road Less Traveled; Poor African Village to Duke University

It’s not often that I experience pride. In fact, I’m not even sure I really knew what it was to be proud of myself or something I’ve been a part of until just a few months ago. First I became a parent and brought a healthy baby boy into the world with my loving husband and second, my organization, Make A Difference (MAD) was informed that one of our students we have helped raise and support for over ten years got into Duke University.  He came from a very poor village in the Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania.

Most Tanzanians don’t go to college, let alone get past the 8th grade in Tanzania. They are taught in their native language, Swahili,  yet a majority of their exams are in English which makes it extremely difficult to succeed. Higher education is a road less traveled. This is what makes Revo’s journey so extraordinary.

When in investing in the lives of students you never know who will go that extra mile. Revo did. He also spent countless nights staying up late and working hard. I couldn’t be more proud of him. Congratulations, Revo!   Continue reading

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They Call Me Grandpa!

Wow!  What an experience MAD is providing our group from Salesforce.com.  This is my third international volunteering experience and one of the best.

Juma and I at Lake Chala.

From the moment we arrived at the guesthouse in Moshi, Theresa has been very accommodating and makes sure we are enjoying the Tanzania experience as well as supporting the MAD mission,   The most impactful moments for me have been with the kids.   I wasn’t sure what to expect but certainly didn’t expect them to be so endearing and genuine,   When we were first introduced, they came over with huge smiles on their faces and embraced me in the double hug as if we have been friends forever.   I continue to be amazed at how happy they are, how much love they share, and the respect they show especially given their individual backgrounds.   As I am the oldest in the group, Eliona and Juma call me grandpa…. with a giggle.   I love it.  So far I’ve enjoyed our many conversations (in English), singing, walking 10k around Lake Chala, and shoveling.dirt at the work site with them…  Always smiling, always with a great attitude and never complaining.   I never thought I would become so attached to these kids in such a short amount of time.  I don’t want to say good bye!

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Blog 1- Mariah Bernanke

-Mariah Bernanke

Arrival and the first couple of days:

After twenty-six hours of travel, my plane landed at the tiny, beautifully landscaped Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. There were mountains on one side of me, contrasted by the grassy fields on the other.  With mixed feelings of excitement and a bit of anxiety, I checked in, found my bags, and was greeted with a large sign that read “MARIAH- Make A Difference Now” held by Kunda, the driver. He greeted me warmly and then the two people next to him that looked around my age introduced themselves as Courtney and Shawheen, interns that would be living in the guest house with me. I had found this non-profit organization through a mutual friend when I was searching for ways to volunteer in Africa. Since before I was thirteen, it has always been the number one place I’ve wanted to visit and volunteer. The main focus of Make A Difference (MAD) is to help end poverty through education by establishing an operating model for orphaned and vulnerable children to become fully contributing members and leaders of Tanzania. There are currently twenty-two orphans supported by the MAD orphanage and the idea is to provide them with the tools to strive, not just survive. Most of these children have lost their parents to AIDS and sicknesses exacerbated by poverty, and have been taken in by Theresa Grant, the founder and active coordinator of the organization.
The hour car ride to the guest house was my first real taste of Africa.  As we pulled out onto the main road, I stopped mid-conversation to watch a boy, no older than seven, herding around twenty cattle a few feet from the busy road. In front of him, a woman was carrying an enormous cluster of sticks, over seven feet long, horizontally on her head. I had seen pictures of this but to see it in real time, to realize those pictures are an everyday, nonchalant occurrence, was captivating. I’d soon learn that I’d see both of these practices everywhere I went, along with taxis (called dala dalas) stuffing in people like clown cars and men on motorcycles flying down the road with multiple passengers, little babies, and even a handful of chickens.  No one seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere. We would drive for a while without seeing any buildings and pass a woman carrying a large basket, just walking to who-knows-where. We’d pass store front lots with groups of people lounging on the dirt ground or leaning back in a plastic lawn chair, living in “African time”, a state of mind that dwarfs Jewish standard time and takes a bit of getting used to. The houses and stores were mostly made of cinder block covered in a layer of mud with tin sheets as roofs. Windows were a rare sight, substituted by draping cloths or closed shutters. Some of the houses, huts really, were constructed solely of sticks plastered together with mud. It was pretty unbelievable that someone could live there. But although there is dust and dirt, the city is far from colorless. There is more vegetation here than I had associated with the general term of “Africa”. Corn stalks and sunflowers (the two main crops in Tanzania) line the sides of the roads and extend for miles until they are stopped abruptly by the emergence of the rolling mountains. Woman wear head wraps, shoulder wraps, and wraps as skits, many times all containing different brightly colored patterns. Store fronts are colorful, clotheslines like jumbled rainbows, and red Coca-Cola signs are on every corner.
I am currently living at the MAD guest house in Moshi. A comfortable one story building, set up it the style of a hostel and surrounded by a gate. The house is located in a “neighborhood” type community called Rau so the sounds of children playing, dogs barking, and assorted vehicles making their way down a bumpy, pothole-filled road is the comforting soundtrack that wakes me up in the morning and plays throughout the day. Showers are instructed to be taken every other day and unlike the locals, hot water is our luxury. There is also safe drinking water at the house and everyone receives three meals a day cooked by the wonderful Pina. She is a local but takes all the precautions necessary to caudal our stomachs, making food we enjoy from home and introducing us to a bit of Tanzanian cuisine. On day one, Shawheen, Marisa (an intern), and I received a cooking lesson in preparing a traditional meal called Ugali and were given our first Swahili lesson by Erazmus, Theresa’s Tanzanian assistant. Then we drove to the orphanage in Himo to meet the twelve kids currently living there. The other ten are at boarding school which is extremely common here and boarding can start as early as age three. We where greeted with double hugs, songs, and introductions. Afterwards everyone headed to the backyard, a dirt area, to play some soccer and basketball. Since I’ve been here, its been great connecting with the kids through universal interests. Some love soccer (futbol) and have moves that kids in America only perfect after years of training while some favor basketball, shooting by taking the ball behind their head and chucking it up with two hands and surprising precision. Once the kids found out I was going to teach hip-hop classes later in the week, they insisted I give a preview of my moves. Before long, I had a group of African orphans doing isolations and body roles. I was extremely impressed by the talent a couple of them had, showing me moves I’d never seen before and ones that look me years to perfect. They hadn’t had the privilege of picking up moves from youtube and music artists, they where completely self taught. We made a pact to exchange moves later on.

DAY 4 -Safari

Theresa makes a point to take the kids on educational field trips. This time, the five oldest kids living at the orphanage where chosen to go on an excursion to West Kilimanjaro for a walking safari and I was lucky enough to join in. We drove for hours into the middle of nowhere, passing Massai villages (one of the local tribes) and following signs painted almost illegibly on rocks. But, when we pulled in through a gate, there was a beautiful Western-interpreted safari lodge. There where large wooden porches covered by thick straw roofs and plump animal print couches underneath. Our guide came out dressed in a tan uniform, holding a gun, and started to speak in Swahili. He didn’t know English. Luckily, all of the kids speak English very well and one of the boys, Mweda, volunteered to translate. The beginning of our walk was uneventful and I was doubtful we would see any animals, but soon our trek lead us close to a watering hole and the wildlife emerged. We saw warthogs, smaller than what “The Lion King” had prepared me for, running around with their rope-like tails pointing straight up. There where wildabeasts and zebras peacefully sharing the water and baboons in families of three or four running across the plains. The contrast of the blue mountains in the distance and the yellowish-green expansion of tall grass was unlike anything I’ve seen before. The sky was clear and there was a cool breeze as we walked to a different part of the park, spotting giraffes in the distance. Being exposed made the experience seem more intimate than if we had been in a vehicle and seeing congregations of giraffe close up and in the wild was incredible.

Day 5- Baby Orphanage

MAD sends volunteers once or twice a week to help out at an orphanage for children under the age of one. I had idealized it as a place with sixty happy little African babies running around and playing with toys. Thankfully, before I left, Marisa warned me that it was a lot to handle. When we arrived, we were asked to help feed the babies dinner. We walked into a room and there were about twenty kids, some with unwiped snot, others with shirts hanging off their shoulders, and others with, from what I could smell, unchanged diapers. But I wasn’t wrong about just how adorable they would be with their big brown eyes and outstretched hands, asking to be held. But to be frank, dinner was not my favorite experience at the orphanage. At one point, I was helping a little boy spoon porridge into his mouth but he refused to chew and swallow. A minute later I leaned in to check on his progress, he pursed his lips, and sprayed the mush all over my face. I was ready to leave.
Afterwards, we followed a nurse-in-training into a room where we helped put mosquito nets on cribs. These babies where all cleaned up from dinner and a couple where sitting on small plastic potties, doing what they do best. The rest where all giggles, wanting to be swung and tickled. When we started singing songs and teaching moves, their eyes where glued to us. I had to reach back far into my memory bank for the words to a couple of them. The hokey-pokey, twinkle twinkle, and ring-around-the-rosie where all big hits. I left feeling exhausted and lighthearted, realizing I was looking forward to returning but would, by any means necessary, avoid dining time.

DAY 6- A hip-hop challenge: 100 African school kids vs. Me

Before I left Charlotte, I knew I was expected to teach hip-hop to the kids at the orphanage and the students at a local elementary/middle school. I was told in an email there would be one hundred students participating and I was hopeful that it was a typo. However, after meeting with the headmaster and hearing her insistent instructions that I teach them all at once, I braced myself for the first day. I had found speakers that seemed loud when tested in a small room but once I plugged them in in the large open dining room where I’d be teaching, I realized the volume was going to be an issue. Thankfully, the students didn’t seem to mind. They weren’t used to having a dance class, let alone listening to music on speakers, so I was relieved to see smiles and excited nudges as we began each dance. When I was done instructing, a boy about thirteen years old came up to me and asked if I could “play some music he could shake to”. He proceeded with an impressive performance, in front of everyone, of very American style hip-hop and then passed it on to his friend, Peter, who was one of the boys from the orphanage. Peter responded with some amazing moves and all the students seemed to love watching this “street performance”. After a bit, I hopped into the circle, was “passed” the dance, and did a couple of moves.  When the improved show finished, the kids cheered and many came up to me in waves, asking when the next hip-hop class was. I informed them I was scheduled to teach every Saturday and Sunday. The next day, even though it’s not hip-hop, I taught them the dance to “Cotton Eyed Joe” and they absolutely loved it. Who would have thought.

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